Minimize cybersecurity risk: Work with Industrial Automation OEMs to digitize operations by Schneider Electric

Maurizio Indovini

Minimize cybersecurity risk: Work with Industrial Automation OEMs to digitize operations


New Industry 4.0 digital transformation technologies are opening the door to more advanced, cost-effective methods for designing, operating, and maintaining plant equipment. As digital transformation accelerates its influence across more industrial operations, advanced connectivity plays a more significant role in driving operational efficiency. As such, interoperability of best-of-breed products emerges as a critical element that delivers the efficiencies needed to establish marketplace advantage.


At the same time, however, expanding connectivity via Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) devices embedded in machines is also increasing the threat of industrial automation cyberattacks. To better manage this IIoT-driven expanded cyberattack surface, industrial organizations must better protect themselves. Reviewing the resilience of industrial control systems is a logical place to start. However, even IIoT devices that do not perform control functions, but that furnish data from which control decisions are made, should be accounted for. Stakeholders must monitor what is happening at those system endpoints to ensure that configurations are not altered.


As an experienced automation, electrical, instrumentation, safety, networking, and industrial Schneider Electric Alliance partner based in Italy, we at IEMA work with machine builders and plant owners to help modernize manufacturing approaches. We aim to formulate secure, cost-effective, long-term strategies for maintaining consistent and predictable operations across industrial facilities.


Managing cybersecurity risk and digital transformation work together


From an industrial operations perspective, there is a need for more data collection. to offer clients more services, and to drive higher efficiencies from plant machines. The main goal for plant owners, and the OEMs that support them, is to know when a machine’s performance is declining and to avoid unscheduled machine downtime. Lower performance often means less production and, therefore, lower revenue, so every minute of downtime can negatively impact profitability.


Each plant we review is unique. Whenever we perform a walk-through analysis, we often encounter equipment from different manufacturers and a distinctive set of business needs. Our resulting engineering reports typically focus on technology solutions that help optimize long-term productivity and performance.


Now that smart machine deployment projects involve connecting to the internet or outside networks, potential cybersecurity issues must also be addressed. Digital transformation and cybersecurity are 100% linked; therefore, businesses should be wary of moving forward with one without the other. It’s up to each organization to understand where vulnerabilities lie within their systems and operations.


We can help customers with a variety of approaches for connecting their machines. Some may not want many of the machines in their manufacturing lines connected to the cloud. In those cases, we help them architect a solution separating the higher-level connectivity layer, with only one entry point to the cloud, from the lower level of factory devices. With only one connection point, it is uncomplicated to address a security risk if one is presented: by simply closing or opening the one connection. Also, if an OEM technician wants to connect to their smart machine to perform maintenance remotely, they can avoid a cloud connection by using their own virtual private network (VPN) and server.


We can also establish only one point where all the controllers (PLCs) in the manufacturing line can send their data and have the industrial personal computer (IPC) take charge of the data exchange, opening the connection to the cloud only when needed.


When clients require validation of their cybersecurity approach, we have the knowledge to assist and guide them. Should a client also require data collection help to analyze machine functionality, running diagnostics to determine machine performance, or reducing unanticipated downtime through a predictive maintenance approach, we can offer data services that support them in these areas.


Work with the best partners for cybersecurity and digital transformation


As digital transformation continues to alter the nature of plant operations, and as clients look for cybersecure solutions to help boost their efficiency and productivity, we have always observed that customers value our ability to help them successfully reach a project’s ultimate goals and metrics rather than simply installing technology components for them.


A good partner must deliver not only the right technology, but also services that help ensure long-term success – however that is defined. We work closely with our partner, Schneider Electric, to recommend technologies to OEMs to boost their internal machine engineering and design productivity and more easily manage and maintain machines distributed across end-user sites.


Schneider Electric provides us with the coverage and on-the-ground assistance we need when deploying complex technology solutions. Together, we help clients collect and process their data, analyze it, and produce tangible positive results that drive uptime and operational efficiencies.

To learn more about how Industry 4.0 solutions can boost plant productivity and efficiency, visit the IEMA and Schneider Electric web pages.