The Death of the Proprietary OT Software Stack


We all experience the silos of data that exist all over our plant floors. Unfortunately, I still have never walked into any facility without islands of automation and non-integrated data scattered throughout the plant floor.  

We know the situation -  

  • Rockwell's PlantPAx, Emerson's DeltaV or another DCS controls the main process and collects data in its proprietary historian and SQL databases. 
  • Wonderware's has been deployed in part of the facility, historizing data in Wonderware's own historian.
  • Several skids exist that have hardwired inputs and outputs to and from the skid and the main control system since there is no other practical way to communicate and collect data between the two.
  • The CIP system is its own island of automation, with CIP Pinning charts setup and monitored in Excel and historical data being collected in flat files.
  • Single station HMIs that only communicate to a few process assets are never integrated into the main control system.
  • Proprietary or closed systems developed by an OEM are in production and cannot be accessed without going back to the OEM, costing you time, resources and money.
  • Paper records reside everywhere since there is no one good way to electronically collect all required data in one central location.

Plant floor control is controlled chaos!

Manufacturing Big Data

Manufacturing continues to lead all sectors in data generation. In fact, government is the second biggest sector and government still generates less than half the data that manufacturing generates. As we move into the next industrial revolution, new players start to emerge on who controls all that data. Today, our plant data sits primarily within incompatible, proprietary data silos and software packages controlled by the large process control vendors such as Rockwell, Emerson, GE, Siemens, Honeywell, OSI, and Wonderware. The big players continue to buy up software solutions to fill gaps, and then optimize the solution for its specific control system.

Unfortunately, the vendors that focus on the plant floor are behind the times embracing collaboration along with open source, agnostic software and communications - they want to own the hardware, the software, the services and the lucrative tech support contracts. While we see many different vendors on the plant floor, we don't see streamlined cross talk and data collection between each vendor. Vendors continue to offer software products that purposely lock out competition.

Enter the IT Software Vendors and Industry Disruptors

Microsoft Azure, Amazon Web Services, IBM Watson and Google Cloud all recognize the big data potential in manufacturing and are all developing deployable solutions tailored directly towards the manufacturing sector. What differentiates them from the traditional control system players is that their solutions are completely agnostic- a Rockwell IIoT Device, an Emerson IIoT Device or any other plant floor device are the same to big data. Furthermore, software providers such as Open Automation Software and Inductive Automation continue to disrupt the industry through aggressive pricing models and embracing open source development.  

Companies like Telit brings islands of automation and data together by offering Industrial IoT Integration and Enablement Platforms like DeviceWISE. They move real time data from disparate control systems or IIoT device to agnostic software platforms.

Industrial IoT Without the Traditional Control System

IBM, Bosch, and Sugar Creek Brewery collaborated together to harness the power of IBM Watson Analytics and AI. It resulted in building a successful brewing solution powered by IBM Watson, that eliminated waste for Sugar Creek Brewery - a solution completely outside a traditional control system.  

Software, dashboards and tools typically found on the IT side and not on the OT side were used to solve a controls problem. 

Industrial IoT and the Future Plant Floor

As we move forward in Industry 4.0, control system manufacturers must adapt and focus on what they do best - hardware, valves, instrumentation, motor control centers, and other IIoT devices and sensors. Unless the major control system players start collaborating on open source communications and data protocols, it's inevitable current industry disruptors like Inductive Automation along with non-traditional OT companies that specialize in big data and analytics will grow their share of the plant floor software. After all, big data translates to big revenue.

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About The Author

Tim Malyszko is the founder of Intelligent Industrial Strategies. When he’s not serving his clients, he can be found on the golf course or creating a new piece of art in his woodworking shop. He calls St. Louis, Missouri home.