IT And Process Control Technologies Converge Seamlessly
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IT And Process Control Technologies Converge Seamlessly

By Doug Mills, VP & CIO, The Mosaic Company

Doug Mills, VP & CIO, The Mosaic Company

Challenges for information technology within the manufacturing sector

Within Mosaic, our IT organization supports our mining operations by providing applications such as ERP, plant maintenance, production information systems, security services, and technical services. At each production location, process automation is the responsibility of electrical engineers and instrumentation teams. During the past several years, IT and process control technologies have clearly converged, as many infrastructure components have become common.

Three challenges I have experienced providing IT services within the manufacturing sector are:

Developing Partnerships

Forming partnerships between IT and the local engineering teams has been challenging, since process automation has historically been “off limits” for IT. To demonstrate that IT could deliver value we provided services aligned with one of our IT value propositions – deliver operational excellence. We leveraged our operational disciplines such as backup, recovery, system patching, server provisioning, and architecture. For example, we built higher levels of resiliency within data historian infrastructure, resulting in higher availability and reliability. Removing these activities from the plate of the process teams free them up to focus on process control. Ultimately, becoming a trusted partner is a key requirement for long-term success.

Securing Process Networks

Operations networks have some unique characteristics that impact IT’s abilities to apply the same security techniques as we do for our business network. For example, automatically distributing patches to address operating system vulnerabilities can negatively impact server operation and control room consoles. We determined that patching must be well coordinated with operations and conducted by onsite IT personnel. To effectively secure these networks, our primary strategy is to isolate the process networks from business networks, which can significantly reduce the potential of external attacks. This security strategy allows us to focus primarily on firewall management, secure remote access, internal threat management, and security monitoring.

Harvesting the Value of Operations Process Data

By far the biggest challenge is harvesting the value from process and operations data to improve Overall Equipment Effectiveness (OEE) through better decisions. Mosaic operates one or more data historians at each of our facilities to collect data from distributed control systems (DCS) and other control systems. These data sources are employed effectively to support real-time operations decision-making; however, I believe much more value can be realized! With the “mountains” of data available, we have plenty of potential to deliver capabilities that will forecast future operating performance, predict asset failures, or identify opportunities to improve throughout. Unfortunately, these capabilities are neither quickly designed nor delivered!

Technology components tend not to be our biggest challenge. The true challenge is often the business analysis and data modeling required to identify data sources, define data inter-relationships, analytics requirements, data management processes, and desired outcomes.

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