Connected and Secure Digital Factories Remain the Goal

The next generation of smart connected factories will be designed and architected as a system of systems involving production systems, automated work stations, and assembly lines. This is the essence of the Industrial IoT and smart manufacturing, where there is communication between intelligent products, machines, and systems. By connecting machines to machines, people to machines, and machines and people to more expanded system of systems, manufacturers can create intelligent networks and factory systems along the entire value chain. This will lead to factory systems that communicate and control each other autonomously with significantly reduced operator intervention.

The concept of a system of systems is the natural extension of systems engineering and model-based design. The basic idea here is that today’s factory and its production systems are most efficient and productive when all the elements and processes that comprise manufacturing are connected through intelligent networks. Having access to real-time information anywhere and anytime can significantly shorten the time between when a problem occurs and when it’s acted upon.

Today, manufacturers across many industrial sectors use highly automated production systems that communicate across work cells, production lines, and push real-time production information to supervisory levels, operational dashboards, MES, and other operational and business intelligence applications. This vertical integration of automation systems has existed for decades and functions as the foundation for today’s smart connected factories. IIoT is an evolution of M2M that not only connects individual machines together, but creates an eco-system that allows for the “many-to-many” network of machines, production systems, and equipment in the field. Much of this communication will be wireless and based on open standards, with the Internet representing the ultimate open system. With the openness of the Internet comes the very significant benefit of pervasive intercommunication, but the equal risk of exposing critical systems to a public Internet.

IIoT Solutions Securely Connect Factories to the Digital Enterprise

As manufacturers and businesses begin to implement IIoT solutions and architect smart connected factory and supply chain ecosystems, IIoT solution providers that offer both connectivity and security will be critical to their success. If we examine the current IIoT stack, at the bottom are the smart devices, the sensors, the machines and equipment that must be connected. This is the edge of IIoT that will provide the actual data and information that will drive the predictive and prescriptive analytics and production process optimization found at IoT platform and business application layers.

In between the device and platform/application layers we find the gateways, M2M connection terminals, the LANs, mobile communications networks, and the Internet itself. This is where IIoT solutions providers can offer a secure and private way of getting data between the factory floor and business layers without requiring significant IT overhead or systems architecture and policy changes. Basically, IIoT connectivity solution providers need to offer connectivity using distributed applications that send data locally or via the Cloud without the need for developing custom Internet or Cloud solutions. Manufacturers are then able to focus on the production processes and core manufacturing applications running on factory systems.

Security Remains the Most Critical Component of the IIoT

Manufacturers need to move to the digitalization of their entire enterprise to improve their products, processes, and production systems. Additionally, implementation of concepts such as the digital twin will require connection, more specifically real-time data streaming, between the physical equipment and machines and the virtual product design. As much as manufacturers need effective and efficient connection to smart devices in production and beyond, they will need, even more so, a safe and secure ecosystem to operate in.

An important and critical aspect of implementing IIoT will be the ability to provide tight security. For example, C-Labs is an IIoT connectivity and security solutions provider that uses a lock-step security that changes the communication endpoint between two nodes (machines, equipment, etc.) as frequently as every call. This is similar to RSA encryption hardware keys displaying a new number/key every 30 seconds. Additional security and encryption levels can be established for specific communications protocols, devices, and user levels for authentication. This is the level of security that manufacturers will need and demand.

The Future of the Connected Digital Factory

The factory of the future will be a system of systems of smart connected machines, devices, and equipment that will enable highly individualized production on a large scale of volume and flexibility.  These intelligent factories will be inter-connected in a system of cyber-physical machines and production systems, within an IIoT enabled production ecosystem. The focus of manufacturers will be on efficiency in terms of optimization of production processes through continuous process improvement, and increasing productivity through advanced analytics.

Actionable information will be the life blood that will run the smart connected factories. This information will be gathered in real time from intelligent sensors and other monitoring technology that will provide the state of current machine and production systems condition, the state of the production process, work flow, material and inventory, and all manner of data for analysis. In this environment, machines and factory systems will have levels of connectivity and intelligence that will allow it to follow an evolutionary path from predictive methods to prescriptive optimization, and ultimately to autonomous operations.