Manufacturing AUTOMATION

There’s nothing to fear but fear ITself

June 27, 2017
By Rick Huijbregts Cisco Canada

Jun. 27, 2017 – One of the most significant opportunities available to factory leaders is the convergence of operational and information technologies (OT and IT) on the plant floor; and yet, adoption of IT in Canadian factories remains slow, a fact due — at least in part — to several misconceptions and fears about Ethernet-based networks.

I understand why the introduction of IT into your industrial environment sounds frightening. An IT network increases your vulnerability to cyberattacks, right? And it makes floor management more complex? Oh, and didn’t you hear that you’d lose control of the factory floor once an IT network is in place?

The truth is that an Ethernet network does not increase your vulnerability to cyberattacks, does not make floor management more complex, and certainly does not surrender control of the factory to your IT colleagues. In fact, the right IT network will not only make your factory more secure, more efficient, and give you more control — it will make your job easier.

Myth #1: An IT network makes my factory floor vulnerable to cyberattacks
While it is true that legacy industrial controls are vulnerable to outside threats once connected to the Internet, the myth that IT makes your factory floor vulnerable is false. The reality is that this vulnerability exists whether an IT network is in place or not. The industrial automation and control systems (IACS) on your factory floor are already a security risk. Your machines were never built to protect against sophisticated threats.

It is a fact that as more of your industrial control systems become connected to the industrial Internet, more of these vulnerable machines become a target for hackers. In 2014, the Dragonfly malware program targeted more than 100 IACS. Attacks on industrial networks continue to rise each year. It is vital that these legacy control systems, which can be 20 years old or older, be secured against today’s cyber threats. But concern over vulnerabilities is not a reason to avoid an IT network on your factory floor. Why? Because the right IT network — a secure IT network — mitigates these threats and improves your floor’s security posture.

A secure IT network intelligently and logically monitors traffic, giving your IT team end-to-end visibility of possible threats. As a result, you can rest easy knowing your machines are protected against attacks that could trigger production downtime, physical machine damage or IP theft.

Myth #2: An Ethernet network will complicate floor management
A common misconception about IT on the factory floor is that an Ethernet network, be it wired or wireless, makes production management more complex and time-consuming. In fact, the converse is true. The introduction of an IT network simplifies equipment management by providing a single pane-of-glass view for floor managers.

Imagine this: Instead of walking the floor and manually recording data from each machine on your line, you simply open an application on your tablet and see how each machine is performing in real time. In addition to performance, the application also overlays historical data into the results, giving you alerts for machines that may need maintenance soon or are underperforming. And all of this is because your industrial control systems are connected to a common IT network that collects this data in one space.

You can get hours back in your day, freeing you for more strategic priorities, such as improving OEE or identifying areas for improved utilization. An IT network also signals the end of the days of the closed-loop legacy network, where information wasn’t shared between systems. Advancements in protocols such as Time Sensitive Networking (TSN) are ensuring the future of factory floor management will be easier and more intelligent than before.

Myth #3: I will lose control of the factory floor to IT
Relinquishing control is a concern I frequently hear from floor leaders who are hesitant to deploy an IT network in their factory. If you share this concern, know you are not alone. Converged IT/OT networks is an emerging reality for many manufacturers, and managing these networks requires open communication from both teams. But here is a secret you should know: IT doesn’t want to manage your factory floor.

Your company’s IT team is plenty busy with user and device management, network administration, security updates and patches, and many other day-to-day tasks. The last thing they want to do is add management of the factory environment — and all those machines — to that list. But IT will want to work in tandem to ensure your factory is secure and up-to-date. So, while this means having to negotiate when to schedule downtime to perform network upgrades and repair machinery, it also means you have greater visibility and insight into production without giving up control.

The time to delay deploying Ethernet networks on the factory floor has passed. To be competitive in today’s global market, Canadian manufacturers must embrace the advantages of the industrial Internet and an automated, responsive IT network. Take heart, floor leaders, the truth is there’s nothing to fear but fear ITself.

Rick Huijbregts is the vice president of digital transformation and innovation at Cisco Canada. He leads a team responsible for fuelling the digitization of customers across the country. He can be contacted at

This column was originally published in the June 2017 issue of Manufacturing AUTOMATION.

Print this page


Story continue below