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Upgrade to Industry 4.0 While Running A Legacy System

by Marla Keene   |   November, 2019

Energy | Internet of Things | Manufacturing | Sensors

The growth of IIoT is exponential; Global Industry Analysts, Inc projects growth of the market at an annual rate of 7.1% worldwide and 8.1% in the United States. This interest in industrial Iot-based solutions is evident when reading industry publications, where there is an abundance of articles extolling the virtues of IIoT. But how can you reap the benefits of this technology when your plant is running a legacy system?

The reality for many industries like oil and gas, chemical processing, and manufacturing means working with decades-old machinery that could be running on entirely separate platforms (SCADA/MES/ERP) from one part of the plant to another. Real-life bottom lines don't allow for upgrades "just because," which means expensive equipment is often used for its entire feasible lifetime (and sometimes beyond.)

And yet, most of these industries would benefit from IoT data collection. This kind of information gathering typically leads to reduced energy use, increased efficiency, an increase in production, improved quality assurance, and significantly less downtime due to improved asset management. Yet only 5% of middle-market manufacturers have implemented an Industry 4.0 strategy.

There is a solution

Luckily, there is a solution. IIoT sensors can be retrofitted to most machinery--including analog machines--in order to provide a gateway to networking. These gateway sensors are designed with drivers that have the ability to communicate with a number of different types of controllers and machines. With newer machinery, sensors might interface directly into an application interface. In the case of older analog machinery, sensors might interpret activity at that station based on measurable items like current, power, or temperature, and transmit the interpreted conclusion according to the dataset.

Once data is captured, it can be transmitted wherever you need it. In some cases, that means it is interpreted into consumable charts and graphs that help you understand what's happening on your floor, or it can be transferred to HMIs available to your workers for real-time feedback. Sensors are designed to use Ethernet, WiFi, 4G, LTE, BLE, or whatever connectivity is available.

Advantages and Disadvantages to Retrofit

Retrofit of your machinery with IoT sensors holds several advantages. The most obvious of these is the cost savings over new equipment. However, there are others. These minor changes avoid significant downtime that happen with a full changeover in equipment. It also keeps workflow in your plant essentially the same, limiting the apprehension and resistance from workers who are used to doing their job a certain way.

The primary disadvantage to retrofit is security. Older systems come with software developed at a time when cyber attacks either didn't exist or were rare. If these systems are attached to the cloud without significant forethought to correcting security gaps, there is a real risk of exploitation by a third party.

Do You Need IIoT?

If you're unsure of whether IIoT would be useful for your plant, consider this. IIoT can be used throughout your plant operations. It can capture data as resources move from delivery to your floor, all the way out as a final product. It can identify bottlenecks. It can identify problems with equipment before they happen. It can reduce your labor and energy costs. Weigh those positives against the cost of retrofits, and your answer should be clear.

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