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The Challenge of IT/OT Convergence in Manufacturing

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Many manufacturers still see strong resistance to bringing information and operational technologies together, with mistrust coming from both sides. That needs to change.

The convergence of information technology (IT) and operational technology (OT) is one of the key mantras in smart manufacturing. This convergence has many different faces with several organizational and technical implications.

OT typically refers to the control and automation technologies supporting operations, which historically have been intentionally separated from IT. This separation originally generated from the different technologies involved and the different skills needed. Early IT systems were proprietary, required internal programmers and were used to calculate finance-related figures, including payrolls or commercial transactions. At the opposite end, OT consisted of turnkey, proprietary systems designed to operate only on vendor-specific equipment.

With the more pervasive use of IT technologies at the operational level, things are changing from a technical point of view. Some simple examples include the usage of Microsoft technology with continued adoption of SQL databases to collect and analyze production and process data; the rapid adoption of Ethernet-based communication protocols at the machine level; the rapid diffusion of web-based user interfaces; and the increased popularity of mobile solutions to access data and perform tasks requiring Wi-Fi networks at the shop-floor level.

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