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Industrial services coming of age in 4IR

20 February 2019

With the fourth industrial revolution now gathering speed, manufacturing and process managers often feel caught, as the saying goes, between the devil and the deep blue sea, writes Vladimir Obrazcov

On the one hand they are at various stages of implementation of the technologies and approaches that will give them the connectivity to underpin their industry 4.0 strategy, while on the other hand they are fighting on multiple fronts concerning network security, operational efficiency, data management, and skills needs.

In many ways it is an invidious position to be in. It is becoming clear, if it wasn’t already, that those companies which have not turned to the connected enterprise approach that makes 4IR possible are starting to lose ground to those who are further along the journey. But implementing and then leveraging such connectivity requires specific skillsets and comes with the added security and safety issues of connectivity to mitigate. And, all the way along the journey, there is a business to run, product to make or processes to keep online.

But if, in this sense, effectively implementing connectivity is the problem, it may also be the answer. Modern automation components, machines, sensors and systems now come with more connectivity bells and whistles than a bell-ringing referees’ convention. It’s all part of the Industrial Internet of Things, of course, and creates the huge amounts of data that promises the benefits of the information age to industry. But accessing, controlling, managing and wrangling that data requires a skill-set that most industrial enterprises don’t have on their staff. It’s also a skill-set in high demand around the world – and not just in industry, since it’s the same skill set required by global tech giants and businesses everywhere looking to leverage insight from the vast data being generated in the broader, commercial and consumer ‘Internet of Things’.

So how is modern automation also the answer to the conundrum? It stands to reason that if anyone knows how to make it all work in a secure, safe, efficient and productive way, it’s the vendors of the products. And, just like everyone else in the age of 4IR, vendors are looking to leverage their technology and servitise their expertise.

vendors are looking to leverage their technology and servitise their expertise

Industrial services are not new, of course, but have come of age recently. Any industrial enterprise will have experience of industrial services, but many are likely to have pigeon-holed them in certain aspects of the business. This might still be the correct approach – it could be that you need help with a particular element of your enterprise, or that you have certain more pressing elements (such as security or safety) that take precedence over others.

The FIVE areas of servitisation come of age

The first area where outsourcing requires expertise that should be considered concerns networks and security services. Adding connectivity without a robust approach to security is a huge risk. Industrial managers who don’t have, within the team, the means to fully assess, design, implement, manage and monitor their industrial network, can benefit from bringing in the expertise to do so. With a connected enterprise, the last part - the monitoring and management - can be an ongoing service that utilises that connectivity to offer remote monitoring and peace of mind.

Product and application lifecycle support is the second area, and again, it’s not new. But this element too is coming of age. Contracts and service offerings that assist in the employment of hardware, software and solutions, with trouble-shooting capability that works across the design, integration and run phases of a system now benefit from remote monitoring capabilities. They are starting to leverage digital twin technologies too. It’s an area of automation servitisation that will continue to develop in the coming years as 4IR technologies proliferate.

The third area of expertise turns towards the copious data that is being created by your increasingly connected enterprise and seeks to bridge the data-skills gap needed to benefit from it. It is the servitisation of remote monitoring and cloud analytics. Modern automation solutions are increasingly systems that monitor intelligent assets, machines and enterprises to deliver much more proactive and predictive analytics – but if you haven’t got the skills onsite to turn the data into usable information, then servitisation options may be able to help.

Even traditional asset management and reliability services, the fourth area, are starting to leverage the remote capability and real-time data in servitised agreements with vendors, leading to reductions in both planned and unplanned downtime.

The fifth area is one which is becoming increasingly important as technology migrates to 4IR; Safety. Service offerings around electrical safety, arc-flash safety, lock-out tag-out safety, machine safety, and process safety can be resourced beyond the enterprise. They can be consultative assessments, engineering services and also, as with the other four areas, are coming of age with remote audit and tracking systems – the latter can help to constantly (remotely) track the enterprise against its required safety procedures, for example.

So, what is the first step?

As the old adage goes, safety first. Are your employees safe? Start there if you are not 100% confident that they are. Then look at the safety of the business as a whole in terms of its security. Are you confident that your business could not be undermined by a security breach? Are you confident that the new levels of connectivity you are employing on your road to 4IR haven’t opened the digital door to cyber security issues? If not, that’s your next step.

Are you confident that your business could not be undermined by a security breach?

After that, the answer to this all-important question of what to do first is to look for where the enterprise will gain most value. Is your company struggling with downtime? Are you looking to improve output? Is quality the most pressing concern? Are you looking to reduce energy consumption?

The answers to all of these questions might not be available to you within the business and they might be exorbitantly expensive to buy in or hire in permanently. But they might well be services that you can contract out, and and they certainly have the potential to start unlocking the ROI of 4IR. Because industrial services are coming of age.

Vladimir Obrazcov is service delivery director EMEA Region, Rockwell Automation.

Key Points

  • Industrial managers who don’t have the means to fully assess, design, implement, manage and monitor their industrial network, can benefit from bringing in the expertise to do so
  • Traditional asset management and reliability services are starting to leverage the remote capability and real-time data in servitised agreements
  • Service offerings around electrical safety, arc-flash safety, lock-out tag-out safety, machine safety, and process safety can be resourced beyond the enterprise

 
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