21 January

Connecting Legacy Equipment

Integrating Legacy Equipment With IoT: The Transformation Of Manufacturing.
 
Not too long ago, connectivity was an added selling point for industrial equipment. Nowadays, it’s a requirement. But this puts many manufacturers in an awkward position: what to do with legacy equipment that can’t connect to the Internet? The answer is easier said than done: integrate them with the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT).
 
IoT technology promises a package of attractive benefits, including enhanced competitiveness, improved profitability, and reduced downtime. But for factories to reap these rewards, they need to develop an ecosystem that integrates legacy machinery with modern assets (that completely rely on internet-based connectivity).
 
The compatibility dilemma seems overwhelming, but there are solutions for integrating legacy machinery with IIoT – three, more specifically, according to PTC Product Manager Jeff Bates. Option one is known as ‘rip-and-replace,’ and entails discarding legacy equipment to replace it with modern, IoT-enabled machinery.
 
Many have challenged the rip-and-replace option as one that doesn’t make financial sense for processing manufacturers, considering the durability of legacy equipment. So option two, ‘retrofit’ or ‘wrap-and-extend’, proposes using third-party IoT-ready connectivity solutions (such as gateways) to extend the capabilities of legacy equipment instead of ruling them out.
 
And option three is to create personalised technical solutions in-house. However nice this sounds, it is unlikely that many manufacturers have the financial or professional resources required. In Bates’ words, “collecting data is one challenge, but displaying it, analysing it, or otherwise turning the data into actionable intelligence in a timely and useful manner is a whole other issue. Technicians that are able to solve all of these issues are generally hard to come by.”
 
Unfortunately or not, overcoming the transition challenges towards connectivity is a requirement to stay in business. And those who have invested in IIoT testify that the rewards are real – e.g., the implementation of predictive maintenance to avoid machinery breakdowns has resulted in efficiency gains of around 30% for companies that have ‘made it’.
 
Transforming isolated systems into connected ones allows companies to make a more efficient and productive use of their assets and business processes. IIoT reaches previously unavailable data to give manufacturers a holistic view of how their machinery is performing. This allows manufacturers to better control their systems, decrease downtime and increase efficiencies of energy, materials and manpower.
 
One example of how the IIoT is changing manufacturing can be seen in partnership projects, such as that between automotive and industrial supplier Schaeffler and IBM’s Watson IoT platform, which includes cognitive solutions to the manufacturer’s products. “We are entering an age where parts can monitor and evaluate their own performance and even order their own replacement when necessary,” said Peter Gutzmer, Schaeffler’s CEO and CTO.
 
“This is an era of unprecedented industrial transformation defined by factories, machines and parts capable of self-assessing, triggering actions and exchanging information with each other, and with the people who manufacture and maintain them,” complemented Harriet Green, general manager of IBM Watson IoT.
 
Perhaps no industry evolves as quickly as technology – and staying up-to-date is an ongoing process. The ideal solution for your company’s IoT journey might be a combination of all three options outlined by Bates, adapting the best of each approach to fit your business needs and resources. Most companies start implementing IoT technology in a small scale, integrating one use case at a time and continuously adding on, rather than connecting the entire process at once. Almost everything along the journey can be personalised. There is only one thing that is not up for discussion: IoT is not a trend that will vanish when the next good thing comes up – so the journey towards connectivity is mandatory for any manufacturer who hopes to stay competitive.
 
 
Written by Paula Magal for ManuSec Europe, where Mann + Hummel will be hosting a real-life case study on how they successfully integrated IIoT into legacy equipment. Subscribe to the Summit’s LinkedIn Showcase Page and its Free Manufacturing Security Newsletters for more content like this.

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