Securing smart manufacturing and workforce confidence

18 May 2021

Glenn Schulz highlights the importance of real-time IT/OT data access when it comes to improving efficiency and productivity.

To remain competitive, manufacturers needs to be able to produce higher quality products at a faster pace and at a lower cost. The solution to achieving these goals is to evolve production processes using advanced technologies alongside technology-savvy engineering talent.

Digitised automation strategies are having a dramatic impact on smart manufacturing. These initiatives have everything to do with machine connectivity and advances in the contextualisation of data. However, they are also about ensuring the wellbeing and effectiveness of today’s pandemic-constrained workforce. The current operating environment has provided another strong incentive to move towards smart plants and factories.

Need for standardisation
To implement smart manufacturing strategies, plant and factory operators are faced with integrating Information Technology (IT) and Operational Technology (OT) data streams to enable improved decision making and augment intelligence across the enterprise. The need for secure, real-time IT/OT data consolidation, aggregation, and analytics within a standardised Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) ecosystem has become critical to evolving brownfield infrastructures and emerging greenfield smart facilities.

Essentially, an ecosystem is formed when different entities collaborate in meaningful ways to solve shared challenges and meet shared objectives.

Leading standards organisations are key players in evolving the industrial landscape. These groups are working together to support secure, flexible and modular IIoT platforms within a heterogenous industrial environment. Such platforms allow for data consolidation and communication across multiple machines, facilities and companies, and help to create connected organisations and supply chains to boost smart manufacturing and workforce confidence with the end goal of operational excellence.

Open automation
As a an independent, international, not-for-profit industry association, FDT Group is at the forefront of the drive towards an open automation architecture supporting IIoT and Industry 4.0. The organisation has focused on the development of a standardised information model to securely transfer field data from within the control system to cloud or on premise applications for monitoring and optimisation purposes.

FDT Group’s work to increase device, system and network connectivity has made it possible for more field data to make its way to cloud services and mobile devices. It has also helped to reduce the cost of information by minimising the expense and effort for integration, while safeguarding real-time, deterministic process control and instrumentation. All these capabilities are enabled by standardisation, which ensures each device shares its data in the same way.

FDT Group has aligned with industry counterparts in its support for opening the automation pyramid and unlocking more data, including the establishment of dedicated data channel for use in asset management. The FDT standard provides direct access to end devices without having to route data though the Distributed Control System (DCS) or Programmable Logic Controller (PLC). The information can be distributed on an enterprise basis to meet specific operational requirements.

FDT technology
The ongoing advancement of FDT technology is leveraging major developments like IIoT and Industry 4.0, so end users can realise the potential of decentralisation, interoperability, integration, as well as a unified view of all data and functions across plant and factory operations.

FDT is contributing to the deployment of standardised IIoT platforms to help support the growth of smart manufacturing. The recently released FDT 3.0 standard incorporates the FDT IIoT Server (FITS) platform. FITS includes comprehensive security using TLS and role-based user authorisation, an OPC Unified Architecture (UA) Server for IT/OT data access and a Web Server for mobile and remote access, allowing for unified, standards-based, platform-independent and information-driven business models across the manufacturing sector.

To meet the digital transformation needs of smart manufacturing operations, the FDT 3.0 architecture is platform independent, scalable from skid to cloud, sits at a peer level with the control system and integrates all industrial control networks. This approach provides secure, remote access to live device and network data across the enterprise without host system intervention.

The heart of FDT’s smart manufacturing functionality is found in its core technology component – Device Type Managers (DTMs) based on the new FDT 3.0 standard. Intended for use with both simple and complex devices, DTMs contain the application software that defines the business logic and web user interface for all the customisable parameters and capabilities included in each instrument They also encapsulate all device-specific data, functions and business rules.

Empowering the workforce
Along with the push for more automated machinery, manufacturers want to improve the ability of their workforce to perform critical operating functions. The goal is to empower employee productivity and improve job satisfaction.

Digital-driven human-machine co-existence is spurring manufacturing transformation, enabling a modern user experience from the company development team to operations personnel on the plant floor.

With the FDT 3.0 data-centric architecture, valuable real-time OT data can be made available to more than just the DCS or PLC. Robust, aggregated information can now be provided to any authenticated device screen via web browser or mobile devices utilised by personnel across the facility.

In addition, industrial firms can employ FDT’s mobility-improving remote access features to leverage their most experienced employees across multiple facilities. Distributed expertise can be applied throughout the enterprise for troubleshooting, optimisation, and asset management tasks if appropriate site resources are unavailable.

Automation suppliers can implement new service-oriented features of FDT to assist end users with troubleshooting and cloud-based asset management. This includes the development of customised apps providing a tailored experience so workers can go about their jobs more efficiently to address operational status, production results, etc. The technology empowers personnel to work smarter, faster and safer to keep assets in top operating condition.

FDT-enabled remote capabilities eliminate the need to develop bespoke solutions to address specific manufacturing challenges. Rather, users can deploy a standardized architecture that is compatible with all networks, devices and systems from any supplier. This makes it possible to provide innovative, service-oriented solutions such as engineering as a service or maintenance as a service wherever needed.

Finally, advanced technology like FDT 3.0 is an enabler to help companies attract the best talent for their smart manufacturing operations. The new generation of industrial workers doesn’t want to use obsolete technology as part of their normal duties. They expect to have modern, browser-based tools at their fingertips from the first day on the job.

In order for smart manufacturing to become a reality, plants and factories must ensure the right data is available at the right time to assist with informed decisions. FDT Group’s technology will play an important role in driving intelligent operations in both Greenfield and Brownfield applications. The standardised FITS architecture is designed to provide an open and secure access point for valuable IT and OT data. Its mobility and remote capabilities will help today’s limited industrial workforce perform its duties more effectively while ensuring staff members have greater confidence as they go about their daily activities.

Glenn Schulz is managing director at FDT Group.

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