"˜Industry 4.0' promises to transform the way we manufacture and distribute goods and services. No longer simply a concept, it is very much of the "˜here and now', and the opportunities for growth and productivity it affords to manufacturing enterprises of all shapes and sizes are ripe for the taking, as Lenze's Neil Beaumont explains.
Industry 4.0, the industrial internet of things (IIoT), big data, the cloud - these are terms that would have appeared alien to industrial automation specialists a decade ago. But the digital transformation of manufacturing industry is now in full swing, and the innovations that these terms represent are already bringing rewards for those forward-thinking enterprises that have embraced them.
Manufacturing industry faces fundamental changes in the way it produces goods, how it engages with its supply chain and serves its customer base - and while Industry 4.0 may be at the heart of this transformation, questions about how it may be implemented, who best to consult on implementation, what the costs are in terms of investment and cultural change - all must be addressed at some stage.
Let's consider those first two questions regarding implementation: the "˜how' and "˜who'. Who best to approach for guidance on how to implement the Industry 4.0 paradigm throughout an enterprise? The more obvious choices are those suppliers of basic and advanced production hardware and their associated systems engineering that manufacturers rely upon so heavily - the machine builders and systems integrators.
Automation and networking have been fundamental aspects of manufacturing for many decades, and it is the machine builders and systems integrators that have pushed the technologies forward and who are now embracing the concept of Industry 4.0 and all its attendant technologies. Modern production machinery must offer a high degree of compatibility with other elements of the production system; it must also be scalable and modular in its configuration in order to adapt rapidly to changing production needs.
Modern Industry 4.0 automation solutions are not merely restricted to the networking of modular machines on the shop floor. Digital transformation of the enterprise is inextricably linked to the interconnectivity and interoperability of IIoT enabled devices and the almost infinite capabilities of cloud computing whereby data from machines and production systems are collected in the cloud, analysed there, and then linked to other enterprise information systems on demand. The huge amount of manufacturing-pertinent data and computing power available to production machinery from the cloud will ultimately transform machines from standard controlled entities to intelligent, independent systems, capable of making decisions and acting upon them without human intervention.
Connectivity to the cloud will become a standard feature of field level devices over the coming years, rather like the proliferation of fieldbus communication between devices on the shop floor developed in decades past. Standardised protocols will become important additions to any automation portfolio, guaranteeing a certain level of futureproofing.
Of critical importance to all this, of course, is security. The interconnectivity and integrated processes that define Industry 4.0 are worlds away from the isolated control systems of the past. When control systems are directly connected to the business IT environment, with free flow of data via the cloud throughout the enterprise and beyond into the outside world, there is the potential for every point on those networks to be vulnerable to cyber-attack. A determined cyber-attack could see the theft of intellectual property, data corruption, production losses, damage to capital equipment, reputation impact, injury to shop floor personnel or even loss of life.
In terms of protection, a security policy should adopt a combination of technologies and approaches which might include strategies for isolating very sensitive areas from the network altogether; making use of industry standard encryption technologies; making multiple firewall implementations, using artificial intelligence based systems that continuously monitor network traffic to look for suspicious activity, and frequent testing of attack scenarios to help train and bolster awareness among staff.
Security is a complex and continually changing challenge, but by adopting modern devices, platforms and tools, and by taking a systematic approach, machine builders and equipment owners can balance the costs and risks and, by doing so, help promote the true benefits of enterprise digitalisation and the brave new world of Industry 4.0.
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