In the manufacturing industry, there has always been a clear segregation between closed-loop systems, such as Operational Technology (OT), and systems that connect to the outside world. This was mainly due to security concerns, holding back the introduction of interconnected systems to manufacturing.

Modern technology is ushering in an era where this segregation is disappearing fast. The benefits of integrating OT and IoT devices might outweigh the risks of breaches, provided that a specialist OT security solution is in place. These solutions provide enhanced data collection while reducing the footprint of the organization’s attack surface.

OT Meets IoT

In a siloed approach, different organizational divisions operate in isolation. They have processes, data, and goals, with little to no information shared between departments or devices. Sensors from OT machinery would operate in a closed system, and any data collected would not be accessible to external systems for advanced analytics.

Manufacturing is evolving into smart factories where OT equipment is increasingly integrated with IoT technologies. IoT/OT convergence is rapidly becoming the norm, allowing industries to exit the closed-off siloed approach and usher in an era of big data and specialized analytical insights and planning. 

Why Do It?

Improved Intelligence for Decision Making 

Gone are the days of isolated data. Now, information from operational technology (OT) systems seamlessly flows into broader IT infrastructure, creating a unified view of the entire manufacturing process. Production schedules, resource allocation, and process optimization become more strategic, driven by valuable insights. Factory managers can now maximize efficiency by precisely allocating resources and adjusting production inputs based on real-time data.

Improved Ability to Predict Maintenance Requirements

Sensors connected to manufacturing equipment generate a wealth of data on equipment health. By analyzing this data, manufacturers can predict potential failures before they occur. This shift from reactive to predictive maintenance reduces downtime and extends equipment lifespan. They are ultimately reducing maintenance costs across the valuable life of machinery.

Putting the Control Back into Quality Control

Sensor data from connected devices can monitor product quality throughout the manufacturing process. This real-time monitoring allows for early detection of defects, enabling corrective actions to be taken before flawed products reach the final stage. 

Monitoring and Control from a Distance

Convergence allows process monitoring and control of certain aspects of production from remote locations. This allows manufacturers to troubleshoot issues, change settings, and even conduct maintenance tasks remotely. This is beneficial for disparate plants that are geographically dispersed. Furthermore, some manufacturing plants have limited physical access to equipment, where remote access is essential.

Possible Challenges to Keep in Mind

One of the main issues is security. Connecting before-isolated OT systems to a more extensive network opens the door to cyberattacks. OT systems frequently lack robust security features and are vulnerable to threat actors. Manufacturers should focus on information security by establishing strong authentication regulations, splitting networks, and performing regular vulnerability assessments.

Another impediment to integration is its complexity. Merging distinct OT and IoT infrastructures necessitates meticulous planning, expertise, and possible system overhauls. A converged system’s variety of equipment and information sources complicates its management and maintenance.

Furthermore, convergence causes a data deluge. Manufacturers must filter, examine, and collect valuable insights from this info to avoid an overload of data and make sound decisions.

Finally, the large amounts of data IoT devices collect raise privacy concerns. Manufacturers must establish clear guidelines for data governance to guarantee the confidentiality of data and compliance with applicable regulations.

Summary of Priority Tasks for IoT/OT Convergence

  • Security must be a priority.
  • Complex integrations must be planned thoroughly.
  • Expect large volumes of data. Management of data is going to be critical.
  • Upskill existing employees.
  • Make data governance a priority.

Conclusion

The industrial landscape is changing dramatically with the convergence of IoT and OT. This powerful trend unlocks many benefits, including real-time insights, predictive maintenance, and improved collaboration. However, navigating the complexities of integration, data management, and cybersecurity is critical to success. 

Manufacturers can address these challenges by prioritizing strong security measures, investing in a skilled workforce, and implementing data-based strategies. Finally, embracing IoT/OT convergence is no longer an option for businesses seeking to thrive in an age of interconnected industries dominated by data-driven decision-making.