Think about all the devices and parts of your life that are connected in one way or another. The information on your cell phone automatically connects to your tablet, which then connects to your laptop and so forth. It’s safe to say that connectivity is the way of the future – and this holds true for industrial companies. In fact, we should be surprised that it has taken this long to find its way into our world. But connectivity is here to stay. As smart manufacturing technology and the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) continues to become more and more present in the industry, now’s the time to start thinking with this digital transformation in mind. So what does this mean for your company? It means it’s time to jump on the connectivity bandwagon and start taking advantage of the benefits it offers. Benefits of Connectivity Connectivity can benefit industrial companies in a number of ways – from improved productivity to safer manufacturing plants and everything in between. To stay competitive in the market, connectivity and smart manufacturing should be where your company is headed. As you head down the road to improving your information infrastructure, here are some of the benefits you’ll likely notice: Multi-discipline applications Improved equipment and production operation More skills and training opportunities for your employees Standardized IT security technology, policies, and procedures Seamless information collection and sharing Taking your manufacturing to the next level won’t happen overnight, but here are the questions you should be asking when getting ready to take the plunge into the world of connectivity and smart manufacturing technology. 1. What are the connectivity goals we want to accomplish? The first step is to take the time to clearly outline the performance goals you’re looking to achieve by connecting your production and smart manufacturing technology. Without clear objectives, there is no way to know if the investment was worth the price and you won’t be able to easily show ROI. When doing this, make sure to outline the full scope of the project including a timeline, budget, and security considerations. Once your goals have been set, it’s time to start thinking about what needs to be done to reach these goals. Here are a few common steps that can be taken to work towards meeting your goals and a successful connectivity integration: Have real-time visibility into operations, including performance of equipment Optimize machine operations and employee productivity Improve collaboration with both internal and external stakeholders Reduce risk within you process Now that you have the groundwork for your new technology, it’s time to evaluate the current infrastructure assets in your manufacturing plant. 2. How do we assess, design, and implement the right infrastructure for our connectivity goals? Keeping the main objectives you set at the beginning of the process, the question to ask now is how to assess, design, and implement the right infrastructure for your organization. With a number of available options, it’s important to make sure the technology you choose to connect your business is right for your business model. Assessing the current infrastructure is a crucial step in determining if the network meets your business needs and aligns with industry best practices. This assessment can help to identify areas of risk and improvement, and allow you to remediate possible performance and security concerns. This step provides you with the road map for your new modernization project and helps identify the best smart technology for your current infrastructure. Once you’ve identified where you plan to go moving forward, it’s time to consider the design of your new information infrastructure. In the design stages, you’ll want to keep in mind that this investment should aid in: Proving top network performance Identifying and reducing security risks Providing increased availability of data Keeping the compatibility of future technologies in mind Lastly, make sure that the implementation of the new infrastructure meets the needs of the information technology (IT) and operational technology (OT) needs. This may mean initiating training and certification programs to help employees fully understand the new connected controls systems – it would be a waste to invest in this and not train your employees on how to use it. 3. How can we protect our infrastructure from cyber-attacks? Cybersecurity is a huge concern in today’s world of connected devices – and it’s most likely one of your top concerns. Keeping cybersecurity top of mind is important as the threat of attacks is very real. Make sure that you have a proactive approach to cybersecurity issues and consider the entire range of potential attacks. This starts by identifying your critical assets and actively protecting them against potential threats and goes through the development of a plan for response and recovery if a threat does occur. Having a threat detection and response protocol will help teams know exactly how to react when potential threats arise and how to mitigate the associated risks. Working with outside vendors can also be beneficial because they can monitor your infrastructure 24/7, alert operators, or even remotely react to the threat. 4. How will connecting infrastructure with smart manufacturing improve asset and system performance? Having the ability to connect devices and pull data from all aspects of your infrastructure offers new insights that can improve productivity and boost profitability. With new technology, you can track and convert large amounts of data. This data can then help to identify new strategies that seemed impossible before the age of connectivity. Having the ability to connect devices and pull data from all aspects of your infrastructure offers new insights that can improve productivity and boost profitability. There are so many possibilities with smart manufacturing. From improving equipment reliability to monitoring machines for maintenance requirements and possible failures – it’s all within reach. Smart manufacturing technology offers insight into plant productivity, equipment reliability, and performance over time. It can also proactively notify you of problems in production and track any changes detected throughout the process. Tracking equipment allows you to develop a preventative maintained program. This will help keep critical equipment running at top performance levels and identify a maintenance issue before it becomes a major problem – saving you on costly repairs. Monitoring and analyzing your system performance can help reduce the cost of managing infrastructure and mean time to repair. This will help integrate your supply chain, automatically refresh materials, and identify preventative maintenance opportunities. Moving Into the Digital Era Now that you have a better understanding of smart manufacturing and how connectivity can benefit your industrial company, it’s time to put your new knowledge to work. Make sure that you are asking the right questions and have the right partner to help implement the most effective information infrastructure for your business.