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Transforming legacy factories and equipment into Industry 4.0 powerhouses

Transforming legacy factories and equipment into Industry 4.0 powerhouses

Globally, companies are facing two primary challenges with increasingly connected equipment: securing the equipment; and replacing or developing the skills needed to maintain the machinery. Something as simple as an internet-enabled air conditioning unit gives hackers the opening they need to attack and shut down a manufacturing plant. Skills are being lost through retirement and natural attrition.

Automotive Industries (AI) asked Dave Locke, EMEA Chief Technology Officer at World Wide Technology (WWT), to tell us how is helping clients to tackle these threats. Locke: We are seeing two broad areas of challenge or threat in the manufacturing space. One is in security. A lot more of the manufacturing equipment you see in a factory is connected. Much of that equipment is dated and is being modernized for connectivity and data collection. But, the people responsible for the updating and running those technologies are often not approaching it with the same IT governance as you would have on the IT side. So, you are now getting a whole of equipment inside a factory which is connected but has not been secured.

There have been cases where cyber-attacks have brought down entire plants. The threat is only going to get worse as more and more factories are modernized for manufacturing 4.0. There are a host of security controls which must be wrapped in from the start.

A cyber security strategy needs be in place from the start, and it has to be integral to everything that is done. The minute you enable a piece of machinery to connect with the network, you are at risk. It becomes an educational challenge and a language challenge because cyber security is not the world of the plant managers and quality control people. Unfortunately, there is often a breakdown in communication between the production and IT departments. We are brought in as a mediator to help convert one team’s language to another team’s language and to take the best practice from each.

The other big area of challenge is a skills gap, which is in two areas. One is the IT competence of those working in production. The other side of it is when errors are entered into the production specifications, and you only see the mistake when the component comes out of the process and does not meet specifications. What we are seeing is that plants are also losing the experienced engineers who have been in these plants for 20 or 30 years. For various reasons, we do not have a new generation of engineers to be mentored by them and to take over. Where you once had a person who could adjust a machine by instinct or feel, you now have a new person who can only follow the manual. faults will probably not be picked up until that quality assurance test at the end of the line.

AI: How does the industry address this challenge? Locke: One of the things we are working with will effectively take the experience of the engineer and turn it into an algorithm using artificial intelligence techniques. The machine can be adjusted each day or each run by an inexperienced operator, but the results will be the same as when the experienced person was there. If companies don’t do something now to capture the experience and knowledge of the generation that is retiring, then they will have a huge skills gap. The cost of quality is going to keep going up.

AI: How should the manufacturing industry be adapting to 4.0? Locke: Firstly, they have to do something about the two issues we have spoken about. They also have to reduce their costs by moving away from being people-based to be more and more robotics-based and to make greater use of automation. Everything around 4.0 is data driven, so you know exactly what the conditions are on a piece of machinery live and at a given time in the past. This allows the technicians to make changes more frequently than they would have done even when the machines were operated manually. So, it is all about enabling insight through modern technology in order to make data-driven decisions.

AI: How can the industry unlock legacy systems to increase efficiency? Locke: In most cases there is a lot of interconnectivity among automotive plants and their headquarters and third-party suppliers. All that communication relies on the connectivity they are purchasing through their service providers. So, what we are doing is to understand the communication footprint in order to identify the costs associated to running multiple circuits and links. The idea is that we want to look at it from a waste management and utilization point of view because you can reduce wastage in terms of spend. In most cases factories are overspending. It is a bit like your cellphone bill – you just pay it even though you are not using all the voice and data the contract allows. We have a platform as part of a telecoms expense management service that allows us to bring that data in and view it in a dashboard. In some cases, we can compare providers, allowing the manufacturer to move to a cheaper supplier.

AI: How important is it for manufacturers to use tailored solutions? Locke: I think it is more about having a tailored solution per process than tailored solution per manufacturer. It comes down to materials and process. A lot of cost and waste can be saved by reviewing the quality from the front end rather than at the end of the process. Look at cast components: if you can measure it accurately after the first cast, you can avoid the cost in time and material to manufacture a part which does not meet specifications.

AI: How are factories being connected? Locke: What we are seeing is that there is a need or desire for there to be more communication between the plant managers, the quality control people and the engineers on the floor. They are using platforms like WhatsApp, SMS and iPad. The challenges are that not everyone has the necessary connectivity, and there are also issues of privacy over the Wi-Fi network, and the Wi-Fi tends to interfere with other equipment. So, there are some fundamental things that must be done to get communication into a factory. Then you have to connect the devices in a secure way, and then you need a platform that people can use easily and that allows them to make quick decisions. Certainly, the desire is there. Most factories tend to be pretty big and moving around them takes time, and time is money. Through connectivity you can have people monitoring what is happening on the line through telemetry. They can send messages down to employees to make changes or to give them feedback on the process in real time. That will improve quality and save time.

AI: What are the most important elements of a connected factory? Locke: It comes back to security: The employees in the factory know how to connect their kit to the network. The employees in IT know how to get the network into the factory. You end up with a grey area in the middle with no-one actually managing the point between the factory and data center networks. Even though it is all common technology, there is a massive architecture gap in the middle.

AI: What is next for WWT? Locke: We are looking to grow our practice around the need for strong factory-floor cyber-security by bridging the gap between the IT and manufacturing parts of the business, and to use analytics platforms and artificial intelligence to reduce wastage.

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Mon. June 24th, 2024

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