Legacy Machines, Connectivity, and Smart Manufacturing: Myths Debunked.

We understand! The older the factory, the bigger the fear of having to let go of trusty legacy machines while turning it into a 'Smart' factory. And that is the biggest myth holding manufacturers back from embracing digital technologies. Read on for some robust myth-busting.

Undisputedly, a myth is the archenemy of change! 

More than the circumstances, pre-conceived notions hold you back from taking prompt and crucial steps towards success. Most feel stifled with fear while turning away from traditional beliefs or age-old practices onto new, less explored paths. IR4 is the giant advocate of change, and digital transformation is the battleground where manufacturers must fight persistent myths. 

One widespread myth trapping the manufacturers in its net and restricting them from adopting smart manufacturing technologies must get debunked immediately.

“Legacy Machines Cannot Get Integrated into the Smart Factory.”

Naturally, digital transformation will be met with apprehension when statements like that get callously thrown around.  

The Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) is connectivity between automated machinery, sensors, and devices. IIoT enables machine-to-machine (M2M) communication for big data analytics and machine learning (ML), driving operational efficiency in the manufacturing industry. However, several factories that are more than a decade old still use machines that do not have the capabilities to communicate. These are known as legacy machines, outdated for IIoT.  

IR4 is about implementing AI/ML technologies for connected manufacturing. However, it is a myth that you would need to throw out your existing legacy machines because they are ill-equipped for connectivity. Completely replacing the manufacturing equipment on the shop floor would mean expenses shooting through the roof. Besides, why should a manufacturer lay waste of resources that have been serving well for a reasonably long time? Such an overhaul for digital transformation would seem challenging, demanding, and impractical. 

A big reason legacy machines must get integrated into the smart factory is the vast amounts of historical data that each can provide. Entirely removing the link could cause data silos. Enabling connectivity between legacy and modern data systems is crucial for business intelligence acquisition and integrated analytics.

More important than new machines are the robust IIoT ecosystem with scaling potential. A recent McKinsey report that surveyed more than 700 global manufacturers published that more than 40% percent considered connectivity deficiencies the main challenge in successfully implementing digital initiatives. [1]

Evolutionist theory suggests that pre-humans made primitive fires using existing resources from their environments, such as sticks and flint. Similarly, today, innovation has led us to discover new methods of turning older equipment communicable with simple connectivity tools. Irrespective of their make or model, it is possible to bring the existing resources—legacy machines—into the IIoT ecosystem, and it is not an expensive affair either.

What Are the Enablers of Legacy System Integration in Manufacturing?

It has been more than 50 years that the industry has struggled with the costs involved in legacy integration. With the emergence of innovative technologies, the process is less expensive now, and many connectivity solutions are available. 

The first step in busting the myth about the perils of legacy integration would be thorough scrutiny of the existing factory site. You would need to evaluate the scope for enabling the old equipment for connectivity. In most cases, you need to introduce middleware as an integration layer to be able to access the data in the legacy systems.

If the legacy machine has a port, you could extract the data using simple ethernet or serial connectors. The data gets translated into modern communication protocols, such as MQTT, OPC UA, MT Connect, etc., and the problem gets resolved. If there is no in-built data collection mechanism, added external sensors with proxy communication parameters get installed.  

As the next step in the solution for integrating legacy equipment, Neewee has developed proprietary edge hardware called Rishee that acts as customized, surface-mount gateway devices for secure connectivity. These have enabled our client sites to achieve better system integration.

Over the past years, IR4 has led many factories to evolve into smart manufacturing systems. Digital transformation is not disruptive but a constructive change. 

Where there is a will, there is a way to address the white elephant on the shop floor.

References:

Lauritzen, M., Lee, D., Lehnich, M., & Liang, K. (2020, June 2). Industrial IoT generates real value–if businesses overcome six myths | McKinsey. Www.mckinsey.com https://www.mckinsey.com/business-functions/operations/our-insights/industrial-iot-generates-real-value-if-businesses-overcome-six-myths

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