Over a decade ago, “Industry 4.0” was the buzz at the Hannover Messe Industrie. The idea that cyber-physical systems could transform the manufacturing sector was on point. Industry 4.0 relies on cloud-based information technology (IT) to drive business processes, while operations technology (OT) keeps equipment and manufacturing lines going. Combining both IT and OT would fundamentally change how manufacturing businesses operate. However, bridging the gap between IT and OT has always been a challenge.
Why is there a gap?
The systems and cultures are profoundly different in technology and priorities. IT operates in a transactional, flexible 9-5 world. When there are disruptions in IT, such as a system-wide update that requires equipment to go offline temporarily, businesses need to pivot. While these disruptions to IT affect daily operations, they can often be attended and resolved, such as having operations switch to another PC or printer in the meantime.
OT, on the other hand, is a 24/7 world. If a piece of equipment goes offline, it can shut down an entire plant. A cyber security attack can devastate the energy grid. Legacy technology, which keeps the production line running, is neither easy nor quick to replace. Older systems can’t talk to other systems, much less new IT systems. Sharing data between IT and OT involves connectivity issues, data differences, cloud integration obstacles, and security firewall challenges. It’s complicated.
If IT systems can’t securely access OT data, true data-driven decision-making is constrained or blocked. This makes the industry 4.0/Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) business advantages of real-time data-driven decision making, maximized operational safety, uptime, and efficiency, new revenue stream creation, and more are harder to achieve.
Data Technology bridges the OT/IT gap
Data technology (DT) is a new class of data interoperability software that sits between the IT and OT worlds. DT software enables enterprises to access their 3rd-party OT data in a straightforward, secure, and sustainable way. It covers core aspects of data connectivity and interoperability: data source federation, secure network traversal, context preservation and enhancement, and centralized system management. While existing IT and OT applications cover some aspects of these topics, DT takes a more holistic, integrated view of making OT data securely accessible across the enterprise.
Matrikon Data Broker unlocks OT data value
Matrikon Data Broker (MDB) is DT software developed by Matrikon, an enterprise OT data connectivity and interoperability software provider. MDB consolidates data from disparate 3rd -party devices, preserves and enhances data context, and makes it easy to share OT information with the cloud using Intel-based edge gateways like Matrikon Industrial Data Gateway (IDG). Bridging the OT/IT gap impacts an entire enterprise; the shop floor can better integrate new and legacy components and enhance the data context closest to the data source, so it has more meaning downstream. Plants and factories can troubleshoot faster and more effectively. Business leaders gain access to context-rich data for data analytics and decision-making.
OPC UA standards are the foundation
MDB is based on Open Platform Communications United Architecture (OPC UA) to best address modern data connectivity challenges inherent in infrastructures built on a combination of legacy and modern components. OPC UA is a key, globally adopted, open standard that addresses the full spectrum of OT data representation and sharing scenarios in a secure, consistent, and integrated way.
For example, MDB relies on OPC UA ReverseConnect to make OT data securely available between OPC UA clients and servers across firewalls. This feature controls communications between more-secure (OT) and less-secure (IT) areas without compromising firewall effectiveness by keeping inbound ports closed. Data Technology meets the data security needs of OT, with the access and flexibility needed by IT.
MDB 2.0 expands information modeling
Attendees of Hannover Messe Industrie this year saw a unique bidirectional Azure cloud communication demo. Using a simulated additive manufacturing printer and a simple protocol, MDB enabled a single device—the 3D printer—to be mapped into a more complex model representing a product line. Unlike typical IoT projects where users monitor or gather information, the demo provided users with a simple cloud-based interface to control the printer. Users could set the thickness and color of each printed component and start and stop the process. Data moved easily from the simulated shop floor to Azure and back again.
While the LED-based 3D printer simulator was eye-catching, the real excitement was over the data modeling and mapping capabilities of MDB 2.0. MDB used data source federation to consolidate OT data from a sensor and the LED-simulator and mapped them into an OPC UA information model instance “under the hood.” This created a unified OT data layer, which enabled cloud-based and other applications to work with specific information they needed in the context they could understand.
Learn more about MDB and data technology
Matrikon is partnering with Intel IoT and Microsoft Azure and their ecosystem of partners in The Intelligent Edge to bring data technology to the manufacturing sector. For more information on data technology, Matrikon Data Broker, and other data interoperability solutions, visit the Matrikon Data Broker webpage.