Industrial Automation

How Interoperability Fuels Smart Factory Innovation

Matt Wopata and Erik Syme
Interoperability is about operational awareness. Discover the role it plays in smart factories—and how to overcome the obstacles that stand in your way of achieving it.


How far are manufacturers on their Industry 4.0 journeys? What’s holding them back from making advancements? How does your own plant’s progress compare?


The Industry 4.0 Adoption Report from IoT Analytics, a provider of IoT market insights and competitive intelligence, holds the answers to these questions—and many more. It reveals critical findings from a survey of 500 senior leaders in discrete and process manufacturing, offering an inside look at what they think about:

  • Performance KPIs
  • Industry 4.0 use cases
  • Skills gaps
  • Challenges that inhibit smart factory deployment


The report also shines light on the fact that many manufacturers are struggling to move their smart-factory initiatives forward. While 72% have implemented or are implementing smart manufacturing strategies, 28% aren’t working toward a strategy. And while 65% have implemented or are implementing an IoT strategy, 35% aren’t there yet.


As the report also indicates, technical challenges can decelerate the realization of smart factories and automation. Manufacturing leaders identify these obstacles as the most difficult to overcome:

  1. Developing new applications
  2. Securing OT networks
  3. Interfacing with existing applications, such as MES and ERP systems
  4. Managing different data formats and protocols
  5. Interfacing with OT networks (interoperability)

Belden partnered with IoT Analytics to host an industry discussion about overcoming these obstacles to help you build a better, smarter future. Watch the webinar.


To offer a glimpse of what we discussed during the webinar, this blog focuses on one of senior executives’ top challenges: interfacing with OT networks (No. 5 on the list above). In a previous blog, we discussed the nuances of managing data protocols and formats (No. 4 on the list above). 


Operational Awareness = Interoperability

To facilitate smart manufacturing, all the components found on the plant floor must be able to communicate, exchange data, and interpret and act on the data being shared from machine to machine. Without bidirectional information-sharing, each system will continue to work independently.


  • OT environments are made up of diverse systems, devices and software. They rely on different operating systems, have different model numbers and are developed by different manufacturers.

  • Different protocols are used. Some protocols are open, and some are proprietary; some are serial-based and some are Ethernet-based. Because protocols serve as the “language” of OT equipment, they must be harmonized so machines can share data.

  • Legacy equipment and new robots work side by side. Seventy-year-old machines may operate next to newly deployed technology. Some legacy equipment may even lack network connectivity capabilities.

To gain complete visibility into operations, all these systems and devices need to work together. The data they generate must also be combined, converted and unified within a single common platform to provide analytics and fast, easy decision-making.




Related Content: Belden Launches New Solution Capabilities for End Users in Discrete Manufacturing




Interoperability Supports Optimal Operation

Interoperability drives Industry 4.0—which makes smart factories possible.


Without it, machines will work in siloes, unaware of and unaffected by what other machines are doing or what changes are happening on the production line. This can create waste and quality issues.


Time delays can also occur when processes can’t be automated or flow seamlessly due to segmented networks. This can negatively impact production and increase lead time.


Equipment needs to speak directly with other factory equipment and the OT network for optimal operation. As more machines are brought to the plant floor to support new capabilities and growth, interoperability becomes an even bigger challenge.


Enabling Data Visibility to Improve Efficiency

We recently worked with a gas company to take its production facility from a state of little or no data collection to enterprise-level collection to support data-driven decision-making.


Operations team members wanted to increase their data storage capacity so they could capture more performance insights, and they also wanted to be able to visualize the data being captured so they could act on it.


To continuously monitor the system for real-time updates and gather the data the team was looking for, Belden established a way to poll the engines in a gas compression station to periodically evaluate their condition and check for changes or updates.


The information is polled using Modbus communication protocol and sent to a Rockwell Automation processor using EtherNet/IP protocol. A ProSoft gateway transfers data between the devices, which use different protocols.


Through software that captures, manages and analyzes operational process data, the plant’s operations team has access to key data and can easily convert it into dashboards and reports for visualization purposes.


Belden helped the gas company overcome the challenges of its unique environment made up of diverse systems and devices, unique communications protocols and mix of new and legacy equipment to achieve its goals. The result: The company has real-time visibility into performance and knows where to focus its efforts to improve operations.


Learn More About Interfacing with OT Networks

Interoperability makes smart factories possible.


If you want to learn more about how other plants are interfacing with OT networks—and explore solutions to the other technical challenges that stand in the way of bringing smart factories to life—then be sure to watch our webinar.


Belden’s network and data solution capabilities offer a simpler, smarter and more secure path to achieve Industry 4.0. Monetize your high-value data, propel productivity gains and generate more revenue when you work with us.


Learn more about Belden's data interoperability, network resilience and edge computing capabilities


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