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Is Leveraging the IoT Really ‘Smart Manufacturing’?

Lucas Galindo
By Lucas Galindo Corporate Sales & Marketing Manager, eNET

Industry 4.0 is often referred to as smart manufacturing, where technology enables interconnectivity for machines and manufacturing software and systems. It also provides “Big Data,” increased visibility and remote access to manufacturing assets. The rush towards smart manufacturing, which drives manufacturers to connect their systems to the Internet of Things (IoT), has also led to an inviting number of security gaps that are easy targets for hackers.

Manufacturing companies are trying to achieve the smart manufacturing goals of increased production efficiency, reduced waste and downtime, improved scheduling and inventory management from IoT connectivity. Therefore, the manufacturing industry is the top buyer of IoT devices, and those connected devices on the shop floor are prime targets for cyber threats. According to a report released by NTT Security in 2017, manufacturing was the most cyberattacked industry in the UK, accounting for 46% of all cyberattacks.

Hackers are interested in customer assets such as data, intellectual property, banking information, and control of machines and robots. Cyber thieves routinely sell such proprietary data on the dark web, potentially to a manufacturer’s direct competitor, or even to foreign governments.

Legacy systems and machines that are no longer being updated often present prime targets for hackers, as networked legacy machines are not always compatible with the latest firewalls or anti-virus software. Rarely does a manufacturer have all new machines with a common secure communication protocol that is easy to manage.

The manufacturing workforce may be highly skilled, but training is often lacking for IoT best practices. If there’s a security hurdle that stands in the way of meeting production demands, manufacturing managers will often disable it.

Manufacturers need to understand that unless every connected IoT device always has the latest security updates and patches, their networks will remain vulnerable to cyberattacks. Since there have been machines on the shop floor with Ethernet and Windows capabilities for over 20 years now, fully securing these legacy assets may be “mission impossible.”

Plan Ahead for ‘Hack Attacks’

With data security being critical for connected devices, manufacturers may even want to consider a cyber-security insurance policy. Organizations leveraging IoT technology should also have a plan for when their networks get hacked. With so many vulnerable entrance points, it’s no longer a question of if they’ll be hacked, but rather when.

However, there is a simple yet effective alternative for achieving data-driven manufacturing goals. Rather than connecting machines and systems to the IoT, discrete manufacturers can deploy closed-loop machine monitoring systems that function solely within the well-protected environment of an internal Ethernet network.

One such system is eNET Machine Monitoring, which installs data I/O boards into machines to automatically capture valuable production data. It can also be utilized on manual machines. Also, eNET combines its Monitoring Boards with a software feature called “Cycle Start Disable.” This allows for setting a pre-determined time limit that a machine can sit idle before the operator is forced to enter a downtime reason code, which then unlocks the Cycle-Start button.

So, unlike IoT systems that can only provide basic data for when the machine is running, systems such as eNET provide an in-depth understanding of machine utilization, and since they are not connected to the Internet, are less vulnerable to cyber threats.

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