Guest Editorial
By Paxton Shantz, Beckhoff Automation LLC
View of and open-architecture IIoT system
An open-architecture IIoT system can help fabricators correctly prioritize immediate production gains and waste reduction.

s we begin the process of recovering from the pandemic, a key component for domestic manufacturing is our ability to embrace and harness the power of the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) and integrated systems. Although the terms are familiar, I see too much misinformation that overcomplicates these ideas and their implementation.

This misinformation often stems from companies that are selling unnecessary software or hardware in attempts to lock you into a singular solution for a technology that should be open. It also distracts people from the true goal of allowing integrated systems to make decisions in real-time (using Industry 4.0 concepts and machine learning).

Consider, for example, two common challenges: late deliveries and poor quality. Manufacturers that aren’t leveraging IIoT technologies possess no central database to access and immediately analyze data, so they instead work to piece together information and make (subjective) human decisions based on historical data. In addition to the data being historic, it typically only considers information from the MES and machine control (PLC). Late deliveries and quality often become a question about the materials and machine and rarely about subtleties, such as scheduling, that could be attributed to the ERP system.

Paxton Shantz headshot
The amount of money being invested into ERP systems often obscures any shortcomings. Without integrated IIoT, we continue trying to squeeze more out of machines and operators instead of focusing on optimizing the orders, the scheduling, etc. As a result, even a high-quality machine’s overall equipment effectiveness can drop to dismal levels, even below 50 percent in some cases. Any manufacturer not developing a plan to begin or complete their digital transformation—to digitize all their plant information into a central “unified namespace”—will face increasing difficulties catching up and will very soon find themselves unable to compete with companies that have migrated.

While an IIoT strategy could harness third-party cloud services, it could also include aggregating data at the enterprise level, sending select information for review in analytics software or performing analytics directly on the machine controller. Placing the focus on an open-architecture IIoT system, which easily connects to any machine and publishes to the local manufacturing unified namespace, will correctly prioritize immediate production gains and waste reduction. If there is hesitation about connecting to the cloud, it is okay to only embrace local IIoT to digitize data from the business side and the shop floor and then consolidate it in a unified namespace over a local area network (MQTT, OPC UA, etc.). This strategy allows you to begin without the potential security threats from outside connections.

Developing a mature analytics solution will take some time. But it is critical to select partners, including integrators, machine builder OEMs and suppliers that provide truly open IIoT solutions. Ignoring this at the start can result in unnecessary expenses and an underpowered solution. Don’t wait to reach out to experts. Now is the time to act. Whether large or small, successful manufacturing and production will belong to those that invest in an IIoT solution that successfully analyzes and digitizes their business systems to make decisions based on subtleties that might otherwise remain unnoticed.

Beckhoff Automation LLC,
Savage, Minnesota, 952/890-0000,