Are manufacturers doing all they can to make plant operations efficient using automation software? For many manufacturers, the answer is “no.” Today’s automation software offers challenges and opportunities to manufacturers, particularly those manufacturers who are operating legacy systems. Taking advantage of the opportunities presented by automation software solutions for the manufacturing industry can increase efficiency and safety, lower costs, and give your organization a competitive edge.
The Challenges of Automation Software
Although automation has long been an integral aspect of manufacturing, organizations often take a conservative view when it comes to upgrading or changing their software, doing only what’s absolutely necessary—as far as they can see. This stems, in part, from the challenges manufacturers face in terms of cybersecurity and infrastructure.
Cybersecurity threats to manufacturers are on the rise, according to a report from ComputerWeekly.com. Ransomware is also an increasing area of concern for manufacturers. Given the rapid changes to cybersecurity threats, manufacturers would do well to consult with a third-party expert on software solutions for the manufacturing industry to ensure their current automation software, and any proposed upgrades or migrations, are done with a high level of security in mind.
Today’s automation software requires a robust network infrastructure. Without an adequate infrastructure in place, changes or upgrades to automation software could lead to latency, slowing down production instead of increasing efficiency as intended. In the worst-case scenario, the network could go down completely.
Every component of your network should be considered, including devices, workstations, applications, and servers, with an eye toward performance, security, and scalability.
The Opportunities of Automation Software
Automation has been increasing safety and productivity for years, but today’s automation software is opening up even more possibilities, facilitating IT and OT communication and leveraging data in new ways to increase operational efficiency and reducing downtime.
ICS solutions have long collected data, but the volume of data has often been unmanageable. Automation software is incorporating machine learning to improve data storage and analysis, leading to actionable insights. Data analytics can uncover opportunities to:
- Proactively maintain equipment.
- Identify production inefficiencies.
- Compare and improve product quality.
- Improve network performance.
- Harden network security.
The predictive analytics built into automation software can lead to less downtime due to unexpected equipment failures. Manufacturers can more accurately predict performance and production, making better use of available resources.
Industrial IoT is a critical part of predictive analytics. With IIoT technology, almost every part of the plant floor becomes a sensor, providing data for analysis. IIoT enables predictive maintenance, allowing manufacturers to repair or replace equipment at optimal times and before they become problematic.
IIoT devices are being incorporated in other ways that increase employee safety. IIoT equipment may require certain guards to be in place before beginning production, for example. Other IIoT devices are being developed that monitor air quality for hazardous airborne chemicals, alerting workers if conditions become dangerous.
Tips for Getting the Most Out of Your Automation Software
Automation software has the potential to give your organization a competitive advantage, increase safety, and increase production. Here are a few tips for organizations planning to implement, upgrade, or migrate their automation software:
- Clearly define your objectives. How do you want your automation software to improve your business? How do you want it to improve operations? These objectives will drive your automation vendor choice, your infrastructure choices, and more.
- Review your standard operating procedures. Before making changes, ensure everyone is on the same page in terms of how you currently operate.
- Achieve buy-in. Automation projects are challenging to undertake, and some workers may be concerned about being replaced. Talk to stakeholders in the project at every level, letting them know how automation will help improve their working environment and help your organization boost production and lower costs. Assure them that automation is there to serve the people in your firm, and not the other way around.
- Implement on a large scale. Although it might be tempting to automate one department at a time, that can be more time-consuming and produce limited, disjointed results. For the best chances of success, implement new software across your company.
- Plan for training. Every change comes with a learning curve. Plan for training time for everyone involved, both in groups and on a one-on-one basis, to assure a productive transition.
- Take time for testing. Plan for adequate testing time. For the best results, the automation software should be tested multiple times, before and after being delivered to the plant floor.
- Work with a third-party expert. Implementing or upgrading your automation software takes extensive planning and coordination, which can be difficult to fit into an already full schedule. Consider working with an experienced third-party who can assess your infrastructure and security, coordinate with your automation software vendor, and complete your migration or installation on your schedule.
DC Plus is a trusted IT services and solutions provider to the manufacturing industry. We’ve worked with the major automation vendors, including ABB, Rockwell, and Wonderware. We’ve completed automation projects and migrations for manufacturers in a live manufacturing environment, without adding any expensive downtime to their schedule.
If you’re planning to implement or upgrade your automation software, we’re ready to help. Contact us today to get started!