As of June 15, 2022, this site no longer supports Internet Explorer. Please use another browser for the best experience on our site.

The Plant Manager’s Guide to IIoT Connectivity

Mar 07, 2017
You can manage and share your saved list in My Moxa
Teaser Image
You can manage and share your saved list in My Moxa

Whether you refer to it as “the Industrial Internet,” “the Industrial Internet of Things,” or “Industry 4.0,” the basic tenets are the same. The industrial Internet describes a progression and unification of technology that offers business-to-business, device-to-device, and people-to-device connectivity across the Internet. Today, automation and IT are combining their advancements of the last twenty years to tackle some of the world’s biggest problems in energy, mass transportation, city infrastructure, and manufacturing. In fact, the factory floor is generally recognized as one of the first places for industrial internet exploration and solution realization. Bringing the concepts of edge connectivity, protocol conversion, and edge computing to a position where they can be adopted en masse on the factory floor is certainly easier said than done. Currently, there are four IoT enablement steps that are helping plant operation managers tackle the challenges of connecting devices and making factories smarter.


IoT Enablement Steps:

Goal Identification: Specifying your operational goal is the first step to working towards a solution. However, clearly outlining an operational goal isn’t always easy. There is a tendency to follow pre-existing guidelines or follow already established paths when specifying an operational goal. However, this may exclude better, more scalable connectivity solutions before they are even considered. We recommend that the delivery of your operational goal to a supplier or system integrator be as simple as possible so that technical conversations on connectivity and network architecture start at the ground level. In typical “block and tackle” fashion, make an effort to state your goal in simple, operational terms by first identifying pain points. Then, elaborate step-by-step on what would be required to overcome the operational pain point during each part of your manufacturing process. The first two of the four IIoT connectivity enablement processes, which fall within the identification portion of upgrading or designing a smart factory, are considered below.

Step 1: Assess Your Operational Pain Points

Identify your operational challenges and shortcomings. These could be instigated by environmental or technical causes, or they could be process improvement demands specified by executive management. In short, operational pain points can be specific or broad. They could be as specific as converting one legacy portion of your operation to Ethernet or they could be as broad as lowering company-wide manufacturing costs by 10% within the next five years. For each case, presenting the pain points and challenges up front makes a huge difference for your connectivity provider.

For example:

An operations manager for a machine building company deployed a plant-wide Computer Integrated Manufacturing (CIM) system many years ago. Now, the company has been acquired and its current processes must be integrated into the new company’s operations, which includes the MES as well as the operational process control standards. The CIM system installed is not meeting the current requirements and as a result performance is suffering.

Replacing the entire CIM operation is not an option, but the facility must be made more efficient and interoperable with the company-wide operational processes. The operations manager needs a brownfield solution that offers smart I/O condition monitoring that can help optimize their existing CIM and connect to the new MES.

Step 2: Develop and Prioritize Operational Goals

Develop operational goals around your pain points, and prioritize them in order of importance. The objective here is to identify mission-critical solution improvements from those that would be considered benefits. Additionally, prioritizing operational goals will allow you, the integrator, and the supplier to select the most scalable smart factory solution possible. This will ensure that operational goals will be met at the point of project completion, and long-term operational and maintenance costs will be considered as well if there is a need to scale up or down in the future.


For example:

A plant operator for a beverage company must cut labor costs this year, while seamlessly connecting all legacy bottling lines to the new MES system to allow for more top-level control and visibility at both the control and corporate levels. After determining the main problem was a lack of visibility and control on the plant lines, the plant operator came to the conclusion that the priority was to achieve maximum visibility of all the sensors on lines 1-8 in real time on the plant’s MES dashboard. From here, sensors and protocols could be audited to see what solutions and technologies were available to connect various sensors and actuators to the SCADA system, and sensors plus SCADA to MES. Thus, a network audit is required, and should be conducted in conjunction with a distributor, system integrator, or system provider.

Step 3: Understand the Interoperability Status of Key Processes

A central consideration and challenge in achieving a connected smart factory is protocol division. Depending on the specific operation, you may encounter numerous disparate and proprietary fieldbus automation protocols that must be connected to achieve your operational goals. In order to uncover all relevant devices and protocols, work with internal resources and integration teams to record and organize all devices, end nodes, and equipment that exist within your solution space. From this point, register their corresponding protocols, physical interface, plant location, and operational purposes. Also, include any specific limitations or details relevant to the technology, device, or piece of equipment that could be important for a networking supplier or system integrator to know.

Network Audit:

Once operational pain points and goals are clearly defined and communicated to all relevant parties, a connectivity plan can be developed. Over the past 30 years, Moxa has taken companies’ operational goals from concept to implementation utilizing our expertise as a provider of connectivity and networking IoT solutions. We produce unique solutions, specifically designed for each customer, that adhere to all of the points covered below.


To use this audit sheet tool, download the utility here.

For example:

An operations manager is in charge of integrating all motion and positioning sensors and systems that exist in a large automotive production facility into the plant’s existing SCADA system, as well as implementing an edge computing solution that will let his operation run analytics in real time on the status of various pieces of equipment. Many of the manufacturing stages within this process are currently controlled in separate networks that all need to be connected to ensure smooth operations. While the current MES can support plant-wide connectivity, there are currently no solutions available that allow for system diagnostics and production analytics on this scale. The operations manager needs to make sure that he can not only support and integrate legacy I/O equipment, but also find the best way to implement edge intelligence in key areas throughout the production process. Also, a substantial increase in bandwidth availability and network redundancy will also be required to support the increased amount of data transferred from sensors to the MES. Finally, redundancy and an industrial routing firewall will need to be designed into the new solution to maintain process subdivision and security. To achieve this, the operations manager must capture all capital assets, sensors, and devices, as well as their corresponding protocols, and catalog them according to their place in the workflow process. From NC Machining to Part Quality Inspection, the operations manager identifies all nodes that need to be included in the new connected solution, along with their associated protocols and physical interfaces.

Moxa offers multiple unique tools to help the operations manager excel in navigating plant modernization and installing IoT solutions in brownfield and greenfield sites. Download our network audit worksheet to learn more.

Step 4: Choose the Right Devices to Help You Get Connected

Quantify Operational Benefits: The validation process of any investment can be a difficult one, especially to the upper management of a large company when your expertise domain is focused on a particular manufacturing operation that is merely a small part of a much larger business. Uncovering potential hidden costs and savings of a connected, smart factory solution investment requires identification of explicit, as well as projected operational costs and savings. In addition, by carefully formulating savings projections, combined with a payback timeline on the initial investment, a very strong operational prospectus can be calculated.

For example:

A plant manager in a midsize semiconductor operation has gone through the long and careful process of identifying all of the devices in the current process flow by inputting the device name, location, protocol, physical interface, and plant location into the Moxa Network Audit Worksheet. Also, the manager has gone one step further and provided drawings and plans that have been developed internally. Since the manufacturing facility’s pains and operation goals have already been specified, the plant manager is able to select from a number of connectivity solutions providing a gradient of bandwidth, edge computing capabilities, and redundancy levels. Now, the plant manager is able to examine the best solution for his business needs armed with the knowledge that a number of solutions exist that offer different benefits. The plant manager must consider the highest ROI possible with considerations to reduce downtime, labor costs, and the total cost of ownership, as well as maximizing output.

Based on three decades of experience supplying connectivity and networking solutions to the automation sector, Moxa has a unique understanding of the numerous factors that make an investment in a smart factory realizable and practical. While an internal corporate process is likely to be engaged, and is recommended, Moxa offers a toolkit that can be customized and applied to a broad set of scenarios and factory automation sectors. We think this will help you make sure that no technical or cost considerations go unconsidered when you validate an investment decision to internal stakeholders. The payback calculator can help you:

  • Calculate the cost of downtime
  • Estimate the annual savings with your IIoT investment
  • Calculate the payback period on your IIoT investment

Visit our website to learn more our smart factory solutions.

More Articles

Added To Bag
You have some items waiting in your bag; click here to finish your quote!