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Manufacturers seek to achieve visibility, security and automation across their environments, in addition to optimizing data workloads and the ability to improve digital experiences. Aligning IT design to OT needs is a way to achieve this; and the benefits are many, including enabling the ability to produce higher quality products, make more data-driven decisions and deliver a more efficient experience for their team members. Let's discuss…

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Considerations for rebuilding 

Many manufacturers are taking advantage of greenfield build opportunities, because of local or federal government incentives, onshoring, as well the cost and time-to-value benefits of building new compared to retrofitting existing facilities. In rebuilding, the bigger manufacturing organizations that have been doing things the same way forever, particularly in terms of how they operationalize things, are now asking themselves, "is there a better way to do this?" The answer is yes and the foremost considerations are:

  • Simplifying IT operations
  • Integrating infrastructure and software automation
  • Maximizing security

Further, all of it needs to account for assuring zero unplanned downtime or even change windows.

Facing security hurdles head-on

For the larger global manufacturers, there tends to be major inconsistencies across the security posture, without end-to-end visibility, as processes and tools are done ad-hoc and systems are disjointed. To address this head-on, it's important to first look at the security systems in place and ask what, when, how, why and who to gauge the gaps and requirements needed to close them. With that information collected you can craft a security strategy that lends optimal organization and control, using clean, formulated approaches for access and connectivity from inside and outside the organization.

Once solution use cases and architectures are narrowed down, you'll want to weigh procurement, operational life cycle, and change control and business requirements, for near and long term, which will help you select the right solution. Using WWT's ATC to compare and test how products will work within your environment is a surefire way to land on the best possible security strategy and solution. 

Integrating infrastructure and software automation

Integrating automation into the OT environment helps manufacturers to streamline and improve systems and processes. Automation technologies encompass a wide range of tools and systems designed to perform tasks with minimal human intervention. These can include co-bots, zero-touch deployment, configuration and software lifecycle; in addition to alerting which enable other areas of automation with robotics, machine vision systems, sensors and automated guided vehicles (AGVs) – they therefore require a systematic approach and symbiotic cross-team collaboration. 

If applied effectively, automation solutions can enhance OT functionalities and improve processes across the board; other benefits include:

  • Improved efficiency: Automation reduces manual labor, increases production speed and minimizes errors, leading to enhanced operational efficiency.
  • Quality control: Automated systems can monitor and maintain product quality consistently, reducing defects and rework.
  • Enhanced safety: Automation can handle dangerous or repetitive tasks, reducing the risk of accidents and improving worker safety.
  • Data-driven decision-making: Automation systems generate vast amounts of data that can be analyzed to optimize processes, predict maintenance needs and improve overall performance.

In devising the right automation strategy, here are some key factors to consider:

  • New automation technologies must be compatible with existing OT systems and machinery.
  • Scalability is necessary to accommodate future growth and changes in production requirements.
  • Robust cybersecurity measures are needed to protect automated systems from cyber threats and ensure data integrity.
  • Many employees will require training on how to operate and maintain automated systems effectively.
  • Fostering a culture of innovation and continuous improvement will drive ongoing improvements in processes.

Adapting and transforming IT to meet an evolving OT infrastructure, a roadmap

Adjusting the IT posture to support an evolving OT infrastructure is not an overnight task. It's a winding journey, but an attainable one, nonetheless. Facilitating transformation effectively will drive increased operational efficiencies, better agility and level up your organizations competitiveness in market. WWT's manufacturing and distribution experts can support every step of this journey, but for now, here is a solid roadmap to consider:

Assessment of current state: Understand the existing IT and OT systems, their capabilities, and limitations. Identify gaps in integration, cybersecurity, scalability and interoperability.

Alignment with business goals: Determine how IT and OT integration can support overarching business objectives such as increased efficiency, reduced downtime, improved safety and enhanced decision-making.

Standards and protocols: Establish common standards and protocols for communication and data exchange between IT and OT systems. This ensures seamless integration and compatibility.

Security measures: Implement robust cybersecurity measures to protect interconnected systems from potential threats. This includes network segmentation, access controls, encryption, intrusion detection systems and regular security audits.

Data management and analytics: Develop mechanisms for collecting, processing, and analyzing data from both IT and OT sources. Advanced analytics and machine learning can provide valuable insights for optimizing operations and predictive maintenance.

Cloud and edge computing: Utilize cloud and edge computing technologies to enhance scalability, flexibility and real-time processing capabilities. Distributing computing resources closer to OT devices can reduce latency and improve responsiveness.

IoT integration: Embrace the Internet of Things (IoT) to connect sensors, actuators and other devices within the OT environment. IoT enables real-time monitoring, control, and automation, facilitating better decision-making and efficiency gains.

Collaborative culture: Foster collaboration between IT and OT teams by breaking down silos and promoting cross-functional communication. Encourage knowledge sharing and joint problem-solving to address challenges effectively.

Training and skill development: Invest in training programs to equip personnel with the skills and knowledge required to manage integrated IT/OT systems effectively. This includes cybersecurity training, data analytics and proficiency in emerging technologies.

Continuous improvement: Establish a culture of continuous improvement to adapt to evolving infrastructure requirements and technological advancements. Regularly evaluate the performance of integrated systems and seek opportunities for optimization and innovation.

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