The Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) takes advantage of the latest software and hardware capabilities to increase productivity. It stands to reason that greenfield manufacturing plants might be planned with native IIoT technologies. After all, today’s factory automation systems can incorporate web servers and clients, standards-based communications, and substantial processing power and memory.
But the majority of manufacturers face a mandate to increase the operational efficiency of their existing brownfield assets. In a greenfield, there is no need to integrate with legacy systems. In a brownfield, integration can be a major challenge with assets that may be decades old. The machine control systems typically are not networked and do not communicate with each other. Once IIoT sensors, networks and edge devices are overlaid the existing assets and analytics applied – the legacy control systems may not have the capabilities to optimize operations.
Conversely, retrofitting the existing controls has not been widely practiced. Rewriting machine control code is an investment that carries a significant potential risk, and the machinery’s electrical and mechanical components may also not be capable of executing on the new control capability.
So how can manufacturers go from brownfields to greener pastures? By revisiting a 1970’s retro-concept – the focused factory, or factory within a factory. You essentially make a smaller – yet still greenfield – IIoT investment inside your existing facility. You can call it a pilot, but actually, it is a full-scale manufacturing system, line or cell(s) fully intended to continue in profitable production indefinitely. Call it a ‘green patch’ in the brownfield. With a well-defined scope, it becomes a manageable, measurable proof-of-concept project that pays for itself before scaling up.