Novotek Column

Avoiding the connectivity potholes on the Industry 4.0 motorway

Nowadays, there’s a lot of talk about cloud connectivity, “edge-based” data processing, machine learning, and the like. The rush to focus on outcomes and benefits leads to some assumptions that deserve attention. Most advocates for Industry 4.0 ideas depict a scenario where OPC-UA and/or MQTT generate all source data.

In reality, most industrial sites have a mix of integrations that have evolved in place. Often reflecting point-to-point integrations needed to accommodate specialty devices and protocols. How you resolve that either create flexibility in the way data is made available for many purposes – or it doesn’t.

Avoid connectivity potholes - Industry 4.0

Connectivity strategy – Industry 4.0

How can you be sure you’ll get your foundation right? Working your way through the following questions should help you see why the right connectivity strategy can really matter.

Connectivity strategy - Industry 4.0 - First question

Do I have a lot of direct connections via multiple legacy protocols between controls and other systems?

This is still incredibly common. It often means that other old applications like SCADA have a mix of very old 3rd party direct drivers. It may also be because of custom interpreters of legacy device data. And those old SCADAs may not be very connectible either!

Connectivity strategy - Industry 4.0 - Second question

Could a more modern connectivity toolkit open up other options for using/reusing data?

If your history has been defined by single-purpose connections (1 for SCADA, 1 for logging, 1 for connecting different control systems), you may have an opportunity to reduce complexity in your existing systems at the same time as freeing data to flow for those Industry 4.0 efforts.

Connectivity strategy - Industry 4.0 - Third question

Could I make the modernization of control systems easier if I de-couple legacy kit and the comms tools used around it?

Something as simple as wanting to use a modern SCADA is easier if the sensors and controls feed a connectivity layer that provides modern protocols for modern software to talk to. Thinking of connectivity as its own requirement can open up staged modernization of the automation around your processes with less cost and risk.

Read these articles for more insights about connectivity and Industry 4.0:

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