Hands on with Buzzwords November 12, 2019 · 4 min read

Hands on with Industry 4.0 - Bridge OT and IT

Industry 4.0 is clouded by a lot of buzz. At Blockbax we like to demystify buzz, make it practical and get hands on. In this blog we continue the series with our view on building a bridge between OT and IT, to which we refer to as a two-speed data architecture in the previous blog.

Industry 4.0

The OT and IT islands

Operational Technology (OT) and Information Technology (IT) can be seen as close islands with different skills, habits and cultures. Take OT, they have the skills to control a production plant and often adopt the habit “if it ain’t broken, don’t fix it” to minimize machine downtime. On the other hand, IT has the skills to present information in a right way to fuel innovation and habits to support the business with tools. We don’t want to mess with ancient wisdoms, so let’s see why the bridge should be built and how this can be done without violating the islands at each end of the bridge.

Bridge the islands to get smarter

Machines produce a huge amount of data per day, but this data often stays trapped on the OT island because companies struggle to get it out of the factory. Companies that succeed at bringing data over to IT are using this rich data for better data-driven decision making and other innovations, which makes them next level smart while competitors stay behind.

Like we’ve said at the end of our previous blog, getting smart with digital innovations begins with a solid foundation. Data-driven decision making and innovating with machine learning, artificial intelligence and other digital solutions have more chance to succeed when the quality of the underlying data is rich. Sending this data over the bridge from OT to IT can be done in a lightweight manner without interrupting the daily operations on the OT side. This is called a two-speed data architecture. You can either check if the current OT system (e.g. SCADA) provides a bridge to send measurements over MQTT or install the Blockbax Edge Agent which takes care of sending sensor, actuator and other interesting operational data.

Blockbax Edge Agent
Figure 1. A two-speed data architecture with the Blockbax Edge Agent

Blockbax Edge Agent

The Blockbax Edge Agent is a lightweight reader of factory data that is well-structured and can function as the bridge for your two-speed data architecture. It transforms machine measurements, often written in the OPC UA or OPC DA protocol, to JSON and sends it over MQTT outside the plant to our platform. The Agent can be installed with one click on a Windows or Linux machine and is easy to configure. And, most importantly, it does not infringe on the existing OT infrastructure.

Edge security

At Blockbax we strive for a safe, reliable and trustworthy solution. Best practices from different industries are consolidated and incorporated in our approach when it comes to safely getting the data out of the factory walls. Next to implementing best practices, we work closely together with our customers since each case has different requirements and circumstances to deal with. As the Agent is part of our platform, we ensure continuous research and development on edge computing and related topics to stay up-to-date and pro-actively inform our customers when updates are needed.

Think big, start at the beginning but most of all: Start!

We left our previous blog with the question how to start with a two-speed data architecture. We hope this blog gave you the answer - now it’s all about starting. Keep your factory running and in parallel, read data from your PLCs or other OT systems (with the help of the Blockbax Edge Agent) and improve your operations. One of our next blogs will cover a case to show the practice of what we preach.

We are more than willing to help you to kickstart your two-speed data architecture. Feel free to drop us a note at webuildrockets@blockbax.com or reach out to us via the website.

Erik Klein Geltink
Projects Guru
Rutger Luyckx
Chief Sensors