Industrial Evolution: Disruption without Disruption
Industrial Floor Pain Points
The most powerful image of today’s deep pain points for Industrial Floor operators is illustrated by the pointillist picture on the right. Each pinpoint dot represents one of thousands of electronic systems, including robot and tool controllers, PLCs, industrial PCs, switches and the like in an actual Automotive Body Factory.
The current electronic infrastructure on the floor is challenged in many dimensions including manageability, flexibility, security, and innovation agility. Most of the devices on the floor are unmanaged and are running legacy software based on old versions of Windows OSs that are no longer supported.
There is an urgent need and desire to move towards a modern infrastructure that addresses many of these challenges and is ready for the future of a sensor and data rich environment with local data analytics that radically improve efficiency, quality, and control.
“Disruption” without Disruption
A complete ground up redesign of the manufacturing infrastructure architecture is unthinkable. A wholesale move from Windows OS to Linux is out of the question, since most of the Industrial Floor applications likely would need to be rewritten to run on modern OSs. The operator experience and interaction with the electronic systems on the floor cannot radically change and this kind of disruption will not be accepted.
The promises of a heavily IT driven approach to the rethinking of the infrastructure of the Industrial floor, with strong Cloud dependence, are starting to reveal their limitations. This is due to security, cost of data transfer, and data ownership concerns. More importantly, this approach has often returned disappointing results in analytics exercises that are at times over-complex and disregard the input from the people who have deep knowledge of the industrial processes.
I believe a positive and gradual evolution of the Industrial Floor infrastructure is a wiser path when driven by Fog and Edge Computing. The Nebbiolo Technologies software platform enables a constructive and progressive disruption that makes industrial jobs more effective but without unacceptable disruption in the application environment, human interfaces, or operations. The key element behind this progressive approach brings advanced IT innovations, with appropriate adaptations and simplification, directly to the people on the floor, which is what IT people refer to as the Operational Technologies (OT) domain.
To this end, as illustrated in the figure below, the product offering and services from Nebbiolo Technologies are rolled out in a phased manner by progressively addressing Industrial Automation pain points in current plant deployments:
- First and foremost, legacy applications are ported gradually to a secure IT-style software and hardware environment so that yesterday’s aging equipment is no longer a concern. The legacy applications now reside on a modern, virtualized, centrally managed, distributed platform that enables much more flexibility in the way of diagnostics, upgrades, stability, security, and visibility.
- At that point, the platform is ready to progressively host and enable more advanced and innovative industrial functions, such as data extraction, analytics, advanced and orchestrated control, and so on, as illustrated in the figure below.
- Finally, control capabilities can be hosted there as well, enriched by the results of the insights derived by local and Cloud analytics and powered by Artificial Intelligence.
Fog Computing will open the door to richer and more standard connectivity toward the machines on the floor and toward the Cloud. This really is disruption without disruption.
The Future is Now
In future blog posts, I will revisit in more detail various use cases, supported by Nebbiolo Technologies’ modern Fog Computing platform, which is gradually transforming Industrial Automation on its progressive journey from today into the future without painful disruption for the people who run the Industrial floor.
Flavio Bonomi, CTO Nebbiolo
Flavio Bonomi is a serial entrepreneur and technology visionary, who defined the new computing paradigm – “Fog computing” and the core technologies embodied in Nebbiolo’s products.