Keeping digitalisation simple and goal orientated

Published:  28 June, 2019

When we think of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, a number of prominent buzz-phrases will probably come to mind – for example: Digital Transformation, Industry 4.0. The Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), Smart Manufacturing; and maybe even Big Data and Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning, the Digital Twin and a lot more besides.

Of course, the key purpose of all this technology and accompanying terminology surrounding the Fourth Industrial Revolution is greater device and application connectivity through the convergence of IT and operational technology. The potential benefits include everything from improved business and operational visibility, greater potential for innovation and general agility, to better cost-effectiveness and access to more useful data (often in near-real time).

However, are some adopters so driven by a desire to keep up with current technology that they lose sight of many of the key goals that should underpin such investment and adoption in the first place. George Walker, managing director of industrial automation firm Novotek UK and Ireland, argues that there should be more of a focus on the actual goals a company wants to achieve through greater digitalisation. He also stresses there should be more simplicity in the digitalisation process.

Walker makes the point that for many businesses the focus seems to be on obtaining IIoTenabled widgets to achieve greater results, whether that be increased throughput, higher production rates or better energy efficiency. “But because these systems are evaluated individually for payback and for technology choices, they form a patchwork network of equipment and systems that is expensive in its excessive complexity,” he said. “Customers lose the chance to understand how they could use a common approach to defining key data requirements and to defining uses for data that cross functional boundaries – and this missed chance leads to overlap of systems and duplication of IT and OT spend.”

According to Walker, many successful adopters of digital technology typically work to become digitally ready first. He recognises that the process of becoming ready for digitalisation is generally about setting business objectives and working backwards to the tech that will enable them, while fostering a culture of innovation and collaboration so many stakeholders see how each other’s needs are really related. However, in industrial environments, he comments that this is often expressed as if digital readiness correlates to the number of sensors, control systems and IIoTenabled devices are installed. “For a leading industrial business to become digitally ready, the first step is identifying what you want to achieve,” he said. “What is the end goal for the operational transformation? This could be a specified reduction in energy usage across a factory, or it could be an increased rate of production. With these goals in mind, leadership must consider what is currently stopping them from achieving this, whether it’s a lack of insight into key industrial processes or a skills shortfall."

Ed Holden, Editor Hydraulics & Pneumatics magazine

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