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Why is poor visibility a major problem for industries?

Industrial companies around the world look for solutions to optimize business performance, increase productivity, and improve the user experience. But everywhere, there is a huge obstacle: heterogeneous equipment. Why is that a problem, and how to overcome it?

Equipment in any industry tends to be bought over a long period of time for various purposes from many vendors. This is a consequence of a natural evolution that everyone is used to. But this heterogeneity causes several problems.

“Heterogeneous equipment also means heterogeneous and incompatible IT architecture. This hinders possibilities to utilize newest digital innovations significantly and hurts productivity,” says Kari Jussila, Director of Business Development at Etteplan’s Cloud and Applications Business Unit.

Visibility through integration

New solutions such as predictive maintenance become hard or impossible in a heterogeneous environment. A comprehensive overview of assets, fleets and processes is impossible, when each piece of equipment has its own separate physical controller and control software, management solution and user interface.

“This also affects employee satisfaction. People need to learn and use multiple user interfaces to do their work,” Jussila says.

“When humans and also digital systems rely on many separate tools and sources of information, vision is lost. Visibility of daily operations is fragmented all over the place, which leads to limited situational awareness. This risks even human and operational safety and cybersecurity,” Kari Jussila continues.

Of course, there is no point to aim at a homogenous environment. Instead, the focus should be on simplifying the underlaying complexity. How could that simplification be done?

“By integrating industrial assets and fleets. That way we can improve visibility remarkably. For instance, in industrial automation it is possible to abstract the logic layers of various systems and bring them behind a unified API. Through that API, data can then be pulled into local human-to-machine interfaces (HMI), analytics and machine learning platforms, and cloud-based portals,” Jussila tells.

Modernizing HMIs can have significant impact

In industrial automation, HMI monitors have been around for decades. HMIs installed in machines, production lines, and control rooms are important for visibility.

Human users can both monitor the situation and interact with equipment. But often, the user experience of HMIs is hopelessly outdated. End-users struggle with using and learning multiple different interfaces and with the lack of a comprehensive overview of the situation.

“Just integrating assets and combining it with HMI modernization is a very concrete way towards better visibility. Our customers have seen great results with doing this. End-users can see more actionable information of the production process, which improves their situational awareness and productivity,” Kari Jussila says.