Challenges in Brownfield IIoT Implementations

Challenges in Brownfield IIoT Implementations

  • By

    Sujata Tilak Managing Director, Ascent Intellimation IIoT Thought Leader

  • /
  • Posted

    17 Jul 2019

Challenges in Brownfield IIoT Implementations


As the business world moves towards a more integrated and connected landscape, the Industrial Internet of Things or IIoT is laying the foundation for improved operational efficiency in the manufacturing sector.

Given that most manufacturing organizations have been operating for years, a majority of the opportunities lie in brownfield installations. While IIoT can be easily incorporated in greenfield (new) manufacturing setups, for existing players (brownfield), the road to IIoT implementation is paved with obstacles. Read on to find out common challenges with brownfield IIoT implementations, and how a smart factory solution can overcome these to provide value.

For manufacturing startups, setting up the infrastructure is relatively straightforward as IIoT considerations can easily be made a part of the plant design – everything from assets to the network to processes can be designed with IIoT in mind.

But, for existing manufacturing organizations, who have been operating using legacy systems and processes for decades, IIoT implementation is no mean feat. With assets from different manufacturers and different generations, IIoT has to be innovatively integrated to make the most of the numerous benefits. Here are some common challenges with brownfield IIoT implementations:

1.     Legacy machines: For manufacturers who have been in business for decades, the variety and assortment in manufacturing equipment is unimaginable. With machines of different makes, of different generations, at different stages of automation and supported by different OEMs, the challenges of integrating IIoT are many: from identifying PLCs to comprehending protocol documentation, understanding support contracts of different OEMs, evaluating legacy systems for security loopholes and more.

2.     Shop floor Environment: This includes network, site conditions, electromagnetic interference (EMI), and such environment aspects. A thorough audit of all these aspects is recommended. Selection of components, deployment of hardware depends on this. For example, edge gateways have to be located where there is low EMI, if the site has a lot of dust or oil, then you have to choose rugged hardware.

3.     Security: IIoT is a huge paradigm shift for OT / Control Systems as well as IT. There are some peculiar security challenges. Many existing control systems were designed for isolated working, and hence, network security was NOT designed in them. Many Windows machines inside ICS environments are not fully patched and are often either outdated or unsupported. Safety, resilience, and performance need to be balanced with security. Brownfield IIoT implementation requires you to take this into consideration and devise strategies to ensure security.

4.     Culture: Another major challenge with brownfield IIoT implementation is plain resistance of the workforce to change their way of working and transition into a world they know little about. With questions ranging from “what’s in it for me”, “I have been doing this for ages”, “I don’t trust the new technology”, or “I don’t have time for all this” – it becomes imperative for organizations to onboard the workforce into the new technology landscape, understand their apprehensions, fuel team dynamics,  and ensure cooperation from every employee at every stage of the journey.

5.     Project Management: You are installing in a RUNNING plant. So everything must be done with least disturbance to plant operations. Understanding team dynamics and getting cooperation is key to success.


Things to consider in Brownfield implementations

Here are a few things to consider in any brownfield smart factory deployment.

1.     Connectivity: This is the most critical piece in IIoT puzzle. Maximum data can be obtained if IIoT system connects to machine PLC / controller. Many times additional hardware is needed to enable communication or extra license has to be procured. Support is needed from machine manufacturer to understandparameters address map, settings of the machine etc. Thus the end user and IIoT solution provider have to collaborate with machine manufacturer and PLC Vendor. Sometimes this can drag on and delay the whole project.   

 2.    Workflow management: A smart factory solution has to become integral part of the shop floor. Therefore, understanding existing workflows, and ensuring the smart factory solution is flexible enough to sync with them is crucial for the success of the project. This requires integration with existing systems like production scheduling, inspection systems, CMMS etc. Some other aspects to understand and sync up are material flows, shift changeover process, existing reporting practices etc.

 3.     Support during implementation: In any factory setting, employees are used to some set ways of doing things. Expecting them to come out of their comfort zone immediately, and embrace new ways of doing things is unfair. However, you can garner support during implementation by showing them how they will benefit from the new solution, and how it will help them in doing tasks with higher efficiency. For example, talk to employees about some of the drawbacks of manually logged OEE versus system calculated OEE. Given the many inaccuracies in manual calculations, it makes total sense to embrace automated calculations. Or tell them how difficult it is for operators to verify and match production data at the end of every shift, and how susceptible the process is to errors such as wrong timing of matching. Pin-pointing drawbacks of the existing setup, and clearly communicating the benefits of the new solution is a great way to get users acceptance.

4.     Sustaining the solution: While many manufacturers achieve instant success with their smart factory solutions, a majority of them fail at sustaining the solution. Ensuring employees embrace new systems, the new integrated environment, and the new ways of working is not easy. One way of ensuring continued adoption of the smart factory solution is identifying internal champions – users who understand the benefits of the new solution, who are open to new ways of doing things, and who realize the importance of keeping up with the times for improved productivity and efficiency. Users who show trust and faith in the solution can be prepared to support other users and drive sustained usage of the system.

Drive better outcomes

As technology seeps into the manufacturing landscape, getting complete and real-time visibility to manufacturing operations has become a business imperative.

While greenfield implementations are easier to carry out, brownfield implementations are typically more complex and time-consuming. From legacy system limitations to environmental challenges and culture issues – there’s a lot to overcome for successful IIoT implementations.

Understanding these challenges, planning appropriate solutions and allocating enough time and resources is required to ensure sustainable success. 

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