The Next Step for Enterprises’ Industry 4.0 initiatives: IoT for SCADA, ERP & MES

The Connected Enterprise is now a reality. The Internet of Things has brought the industry at a tipping point for its technological adoption. According to Gartner, around 43% of enterprises were either already using or have planned to implement IoT in 2016. With cloud-based IoT at the forefront, at times plant managers wonder whether they really need IoT when they’re already leveraging SCADA, ERP & MES systems for plant management & control. They also ponder on whether IoT will render these obsolete or they can work in tandem to gain deeper insights. In this article, we will discuss the road ahead for traditional plant management systems such as SCADA, MES and ERP and how IoT can help you get more out of them.

Comparative Study: Industrial IoT vs SCADA, ERP & MES 

SCADA, ERP, MES vs Industrial IoT

Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition

SCADA software has been a critical part of data collection by collecting data from field assets through Remote Terminal Units (RTUs) or Intelligent Electrical Devices (IEDs), which are connected to sensors through a communications network. The system then processes this data and subsequently sends simple commands back to the field (Machine ON/OFF etc.) with individual SCADA applications often working in parallel with one another.

But SCADA is majorly a supervisor’s tool that works in silos. It is a good fit for line level decision making but it lacks the ability to provide a holistic view of the plant floor for top decision makers. SCADA system’s inability to connect to legacy machines, machines with disparate connectivity protocols, has created the need for a platform that can act as a data store of all these diverse data sets.

IoT enhances SCADA by providing real-time as well as historical data analytics that helps in predictive analytics and informed decision-making. Data collected over a period of time across the plant(s) helps in benchmarking, builds comparative models and drives strategic decisions. IoT also enables connectivity with heterogeneous hardware ranging from legacy to cutting-edge, connected with separate protocols across different lines.

Enterprise Resource Planning

The power of an enterprise to be truly connected can be only realized completely if its people, processes, data and things can be connected in an intelligent way. ERP software is a backbone of all-pervading data within an enterprise.

But without the power of analytics engine and the flexibility provided by IoT, ERP just remains a large chunk of transactional data. Whereas ERP is useful in providing a picture of the current situation, IoT can be instrumental in providing the root causes and actionable for the way ahead.

IoT provides ERP with real-time agilityflexibility and predictability. Processes can become leaner, with a larger share of them automated to reduce trivial manual work. Data gathered in ERP system can be cleaned, collected (on the cloud) and analyzed in real time. Whether it’s enabling new ways to interact with customers or gain better insights into consumer behavior to ensure a tailored customer experience, IoT armed with the ERP data is creating newer business models and revenue streams.

Manufacturing Execution System

MES software is the most sophisticated system of the trio, providing a window of the plant floor activity to the managers. It has always been dependent on external smart devices to gather data and communicate it to the system & controllers, that MES can ‘talk’ to.

With the advent of IoT and the sheer volume of the data it pulls in the ecosystem, MES has had evolved from a rigid, hard-coded, limited functionality to more flexible, modular designs that can be tailored to fit varying needs and configurations for the enterprise. With their large deployment times, costs, and limitation in processing real-time data analytics, MES systems are falling short of keeping up the expectations of management of today. The siloed, non-cloud nature of MES makes it extremely difficult for manufacturers to benchmark the efficiency and productivity across the machines in the same plant, versus different plants of the same group versus plants of competitors. In the age of collaborative manufacturing, this leads to loss of a tremendous opportunity to prosper. This among other reasons is leading to the gradual dying out or consolidation of MES Platforms with IoT.

IoT platforms are now stepping in with data federationanalytics and machine learning capabilities: criteria that inflexible MES systems were unable to cater to. With IoT in the picture, the system can move from mere live management reporting of plant floor parameters to performing hardcore analytics-driven applications such as predictive analytics, using flexible user-configurable dashboards and creating strong data visualizations that enable actionable insights for all levels. Connected to IoT, MES will then be able to work with and connect with diverse devices based on latest technologies as mobile, wearable gadgets and Augmented Reality.

IoT: The road ahead for Industrial Process Automation Systems

IoT: The road ahead for Industrial Process Automation Systems

Understanding the Scene on the Plant Floor

Let us now try to understand the case of a manufacturer who possesses all of these systems. Consider for instance the case for a manufacturing plant that has SCADA, MES & ERP together. What happens in such cases?

The SCADA system is used by supervisors to collect data from the heterogeneous hardware and take basic supervisory level actions. However, the large volume of data streamed real time and cannot be stored there for Historical Analysis.

ERP on-the-other-hand is the other pillar, used by managers and decision makers for planning, strategizing and decision making. The data often is entered manually and hence, there are chances of delays, human errors that make the data unusable. MES is the connecting link between these systems and is responsible for evaluating shop floor specific parameters with the real-time data available. However, these are currently deployed & worked on separately for each line and plant.

MES is the connecting link between these systems and is responsible for evaluating shop floor specific parameters with the real-time data available. However, these are currently deployed and worked on separately for each line and plant.

When we consider the case of a manufacturer with multiple plants, the rigid, siloed nature of this system coupled with the incapability of SCADA to provide a single source of truth of the shop floor data on the go makes the CXOs feel cut off from the ground reality of the shop floor. With cloud-based IoT, real-time data feed from SCADA coupled with instream analytics and machine learning capabilities of IoT can help recalibrate (with benchmarking) MES and also provide dynamic planning in ERP.

Thus, with IoT in place,

  • the assets can be utilized better,
  • the manpower can be more productive,
  • processes can be more efficient, leading to a direct improvement in throughput and thus revenue.

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