Data-hungry technology is used throughout manufacturing in many ways – to store data, run automated machinery on the plant floor, track inventory and support distribution. This technology is collecting and storing data intertwined with production processes and when manufacturers suddenly find themselves unable to use those processes, production stops and so does revenue. Disaster resilience is a way to prevent and improve the data service.
With ever increasing network connectivity achievable and the rapid advancement of operational intelligence technologies within the SCADA application space, monitoring these systems and maintaining the high availability levels critical to productivity is becoming progressively complex and, historically, plant management’s concern has been production – not IT.
The reality is that to manage the infrastructure and applications in this environment, process industry businesses have found themselves scrambling to find the know-how needed to ensure consistent monitoring and disaster resilience. Corporate IT departments rarely understand the specific requirements of the industrial IT environment, whilst on the plant floor, there is a lack of technical expertise about IT infrastructure and significant resource constraints. As a result, where monitoring is happening, its use is limited. There is nobody with the time or expertise to interpret the data. What do those error logs actually mean?
Prevention is essential
Manufacturers can retrain their teams or bring newly skilled digital talent on board, but in the fast-paced manufacturing environment, there is often neither the time nor the budget to support that route. So, how can plant environments deliver predictive and preventative monitoring and maintenance of their automation infrastructure and combine this with a robust, proactive response to rectify abnormal situations which could impact production?
One increasingly popular option is to take advantage of managed services to support these operations and tasks, as this helps to plug the skills gap that is often prevalent within organisations looking to improve their availability levels by outsourcing all of the monitoring required for effective preventative maintenance. Outsourced managed services can also help to protect system health and eliminate the risk of unplanned downtime.
Unlike production engineers, external providers have the dedicated resource to ensure continuous services and high availability of data. Crucially, they can also interpret the data and use it to inform improvements and efficiencies and, should the worst happen, they can work quickly to minimise any negative impact on operations.
The latest managed service offerings for industrial IT environments include performance management technology which enables the monitoring of the health and wellbeing of both the physical attributes of hardware and the process attributes of software, allowing for abnormal situations to be avoided. Plant floor data can then be transferred via a secure web connection into a secure Cloud environment, while real-time data can be displayed on an insight dashboard, giving engineers access to unprecedented insights into their operations.
Outsourcing disaster resilience might sound counter-intuitive at first glance, but in industrial environments backups are often taken and stored in offsite facilities, but rarely checked for effectiveness. To implement a successful disaster resilience plan, it is important to understand how long a business can be out of production and how much data would be lost, and this can be calculated by looking at the recovery time (RTO) and recovery point objectives (RPO).
The reality is that manufacturing organisations often inherit IT infrastructures specified at the corporate level which are not robust or secure enough for the plant environment. A recent survey revealed that 40% of manufacturing businesses were less than confident in their organisation’s ability to get up and running again after a critical IT failure.
Hybrid Cloud Technology
In contrast, the latest solutions use enterprise-class Hybrid Cloud technology to improve resilience and give users greater protection over their systems and data. Workstations and servers are protected locally across the Local Area Network (LAN) to the appliance and data are then automatically transmitted to the secure cloud, improving fault tolerance whilst reducing the reliance on bandwidth speed. These solutions deliver a very low RTO because local virtualisation can take place within minutes of a machine failing, backups can be taken and checked by the external team and instant local virtualisation means that should a machine fail, the plant has a replacement within minutes.
Skills shortages in manufacturing and a continued blurring of the lines between OT and IT are making it difficult for plant environments to drive innovation, so manufacturers in all industries should strongly consider outsourcing areas of their IT operations to enable them to focus more closely on their core objectives.
A new breed of managed services can allow manufacturers to combine performance monitoring, proactive alerting and disaster resilience to help reduce downtime, lower capital and operating costs and increase competitiveness.