As digital transformation accelerates, the role of the channel partner in generating customized business insights will become a key differentiator, explains Kerry Grimes, Head of Global Partners, AVEVA.
Distributed control systems have come a long way from their humble beginnings in the 1960s. What originally began as basic device monitors have since evolved into slick, end-to-end manufacturing production systems. But many of today’s legacy systems, which exist in plants all over the world, are yet to take advantage of digital platforms such as the cloud to leverage data and generate predictive business insights.
On the positive side, digital transformation in manufacturing is being accelerated not just by the development of digital platforms and cloud technologies, but also by other factors. These include low-cost sensors and other Internet of Things aspects, such as continuous improvement in network connectivity, exponential growth in computing power and data storage, open systems, growth of APIs, and the arrival of Edge, AI, and machine learning.
What’s more, the manufacturing worker model has reached an inflection point. Those workers who have spent decades with manufacturing equipment, control, and process systems will be reaching the retirement stage and are being replaced by younger, less experienced but more digitally savvy workers. Industrial software vendors working in manufacturing process automation are now using this turning point in the market to bring in the next generation of digital platforms to automate processes, improve operational efficiency, and generate business insights.
Many of the legacy manufacturing production systems still in use, contains traditional HMI/SCADA interface systems, that rely on deep process understanding. These are not likely to be suitable for the incoming generation of digital-savvy workers. An HMI/SCADA system is a software-based control system that aggregates data through networking from all types of equipment, displays their status, and accepts commands to manage their operations. The HMI/SCADA system collects data from remote terminal units, programmable logic controllers, and other control devices. This data is presented to a manufacturing shop floor operator using a human-machine interface, HMI.
As HMI/SCADA systems have evolved, leading offers are focused on user experience and now provide centralized visualization and situational awareness to operators in a manufacturing environment. The HMI helps the manufacturing shop floor operator understand plant operations in real-time, increasing their visibility into what is happening around them, and aids decisions to adjust the working of any machines and processes.
These HMI dashboards are more intuitive, have user-friendly interfaces, rely on digital data transparency, provide business insights for decision making, will be more intuitive to use for the incoming generation of digital-savvy workers. HMI/SCADA systems are now being leveraged as foundations for integration and connection to historian and data platforms to allow for predictive type analytics. The way digital transformation works in a manufacturing plant is to capture industrial data through HMI/SCADA systems, integrate it further with data attributes from other systems to add context, add to the data platform or historian, and then use analytics for predictive business insights and forecasting.
Such solutions create a democratization of tools throughout the manufacturing plant, improvement in operational performance, reduction of operational costs, transformation of mindset amongst employees, and a culture of continuous improvement. Another driver that is boosting the movement of industrial enterprises towards digital solutions is the Software as a Service (SaaS) subscription-based licensing model. The transition from perpetual licensing to subscription has lowered the barriers for the adoption of digital solutions, in the form of much lower first-year costs and expenses being funded as operating costs rather than capital expenditures.
ARC Advisory Group anticipates subscription-based models to grow at a pace nearly four times that of traditional software licenses over the next five years in the industrial software market. To drive digital transformation in the manufacturing sector, leading industrial software vendors are now offering operations control that brings scalable sets of solutions that are cyber secure, based on industry standards, and supports full asset and operations lifecycle capabilities such as design, HMI/SCADA, supervisory control, analytics, Artificial Intelligence /Machine Learning, Extended Reality, Manufacturing Execution Systems, asset performance, maintenance, and condition management. All this while only paying for the capabilities needed.
This simplifies the consumption of new capabilities and helps to accelerate an end user’s digital transformation journey. Industrial channel partners providing digital transformation solutions for manufacturing enterprises must be able to provide a full range of operational and value-add services. Typical services provided by the industrial software channel partner include design consulting, integration with hardware, automation, security, and support services.
However, for the enterprise end-user the ability of the channel partner to build a software layer that integrates all the data, and converts their data into business insights, specific to their business, is also a critical and important differentiator. Manufacturing enterprises will always have their unique data requirements, and the ability of the industrial channel partner to build this customized software service layer will determine their position in the vendor-partner-customer value chain.
As the pace of digital transformation accelerates, both vendors and channel partners need to have an open dialogue on where channel partners operate across an X-Y matrix. The channel partners’ importance in the market and their capability to keep pace with the demands of digital transformation are the good starting points when embracing a digital future.