Merging Legacy Equipment with the Industrial Internet of Things: Three Approaches for Integrated Data
Jeff Bates, Product Manager, PTC
Manufacturing equipment is built to last. Most plant floors include machines that were installed 20 or even 30 years ago. This legacy equipment is the backbone of today’s factories— but it is also hindering their ability to compete, increase profitability and scale to new challenges.
Today’s factory floor needs to span generations, with legacy equipment installed in 1980 flawlessly integrating with tools built to last through 2080.
Future-forward industrial assets are usually readily accessible to the industrial Internet of Things (IoT)—a new technology paradigm that is helping manufacturers improve competitiveness, increase profitability and reduce downtime. But to capture these benefits, factories need an IoT ecosystem that integrates legacy assets—some of which were built before the Internet was even invented—with modern assets that rely on internet-based connectivity.
Why the Internet of Things?
The IoT is a technology revolution that reaches far beyond the world of manufacturing. At its most basic definition, IoT combines the virtual world of data with the physical world of “things.” “Things” are defined by the specific IoT context—they can be buildings, phones, light switches, clothes and innumerable other physical objects. The physical object performs a function that creates data and that data is uploaded to the Internet, where it can be accessed, manipulated and analyzed by users or other machines. IoT is the next step of the Internet evolution—it’s been around in early forms since 1995, and it is estimated that the number of connected IoT devices worldwide will increase from nearly 27 billion in 2017 to 125 billion in 2030 (see Figure 1).
In the Industrial Automation realm, “things” are devices, machines, software applications and any other asset that powers manufacturing. At its core, the industrial IoT connects the plant floor to the enterprise—enhancing visualization, data analysis and holistic insights so that operators can optimize critical processes and performance. A key component of the industrial IoT is “data synergy,” which is the integration of data from many sources in order to create value. For example, an enterprise that relies on timely finished goods delivery could integrate weather forecast data with supply chain data in order to proactively mitigate any weather issues that could impact delivery schedules. Data synergy is the reason it is so valuable to connect legacy machines—and modern equipment—into IoT solutions for a complete, integrated view of machines across the factory floor.