A manufacturing line inspector reviews a dashboad on his Zebra rugged tablet
By Sath Rao | May 9, 2024

What’s Missing from the IT/OT Convergence in Many Manufacturing Environments?

A strong (wireless) connection. But there’s an easy solution to that, as two wireless technology experts pointed out in my recent discussion with them. Here are their recommendations.

I’ve heard a lot of people recently say that manufacturers need to innovate more – that they need to digitally transform in their journey to Industry 4.0. Most plant operators will say they have done nothing but digitally innovate for the past 20+ years. Many started their digital transformation long before the term was trending. They had to. They’re the ones charged with operational excellence and continuous improvements, leveraging technology and management systems. If they weren’t continuously innovating all these years, then they wouldn’t be able to figure out how to work in new ways.

In fact, it’s manufacturers’ commitment to continuous innovation that enabled us to advance to this state of shorter lead times, greater product selection, and more price competition, which we all enjoy as consumers. We can be more ambitious as business leaders as well because we know manufacturers can get us the stock we need quickly.

That said, most manufacturers have been working to set up “systems of record” and automating data capture over the past two decades. And while it was a necessary first step toward Industry 4.0, the truth is that forward progress toward “systems of reality” is desperately needed right now. Systems of reality are key enablers of enterprise edge intelligence, where data-driven insights provide humans the opportunity to orchestrate better value from machines and AI.

The availability of edge-to-core-to-cloud technologies has added a new dimension to the traditional focus of IT/OT convergence. In the past, the focus was more on cultural transformation, allowing better functioning of manufacturing organizations. It yielded rich dividends. But technology’s evolution now offers the next wave of transformative opportunities to drive productivity gains. The IT side has emerging best practices with automated workflows and generative AI, and the OT side provides newer approaches like machine vision for quality and autonomous mobile robots (AMRs). Combinatorial innovation applying unique use cases can drive the next order of productivity gains.

Seamless data flows that drive transformative insights become critical – whether that communication is occurring person-to-person, machine-to-machine, or person-machine – wireless network infrastructure becomes a central focus point.

In fact, one of the first questions I ask plant managers, IT leaders, and others involved in digitally transforming their operations is: “Do you have wireless network infrastructure in place to facilitate transformative insights that can enable the orchestration of machines, AI, and humans?”

If not, then we need to accelerate these critical enablers. Why have all these information and execution systems, edge devices and sensors if data can’t be carried to the right people or machines at the right time? The critical idea is to empower workers and drive #decisionentrepreneurism. (Watch this.)

Now, there are many ways to get that data distributed, but as we’ve realized in recent years, there are limitations to even the best Wi-Fi and commercial cellular networks. That’s why I recently sat down with my Zebra colleague, Nader Newman, as well as Dariush Afshar from Celona to talk about the current connectivity challenges you may be experiencing in production and distribution environments.

Nader and Dariush have been laser-focused on improving wireless network reliability and communications continuity in both indoor and outdoor environments for years. More recently, they’ve found some very effective ways to maintain that constant connectivity your people and machines need to maintain a high-tempo operation, and I want to ensure you’re aware of your options. So, I thought I would share the link to our discussion in case you missed it because they have some very good recommendations that I think plant managers, IT leaders, and others involved in manufacturing’s continuous digital transformation will want to hear:

Solving the Pain of Connectivity in Manufacturing Environments

After you hear what Nader and Dariush share, reach out to us with any questions. You can contact me here, Nader here, and Dariush here.

You may also want to tune into this conversation I recently had with The Manufacturing Millennial:

Industrial Automation Insider: Manufacturing Millennial Says Automation (and People) are Severely Misunderstood, and That’s Hurting Your Production Capacity

And check out what two of Celona’s wireless connectivity experts shared in these separate interviews when Nader asked about the value of private wireless (as compared to Wi-Fi) in industrial operations:

Ask the Expert: Why Should I Use a Private Wireless Network versus a Wi-Fi Network for My Business?


Still Not Sure if Private 5G is Better Than Wi-Fi? You Might Not Be Assessing the “Value” of Each Correctly

Blog, Article, Manufacturing, Automation, Next in Wireless, Digitizing Workflows, Handheld Mobile Computers, Machine Vision, New Ways of Working, RFID, Scanning Solutions, Tablets, Wearables, AI,

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