Smart Machines & Factories
GAMBICA: A practical journey to a digital future
Published:  18 October, 2019

In December 2018 eight GAMBICA Industrial Automation members gathered around a table in Leicester to discuss IT, cyber security, cloud computing and of course automation and what it all means for Smart Manufacturing. The aim of the that conversation was to cut through the marketing hype and buzzwords that surround the subject and, in this special three-part serialisation in Smart Machines & Factories create an unbiased and pragmatic guide to getting started on your smart manufacturing journey. Victoria Montag – sector head for Industrial Automation, GAMBICA, continues the special three-part GAMBICA serialisation with the final part of the King Power Stadium discussions on digitisation.

In the first chapter GAMBICA’s members talked about laying the ground work and asking the important questions “Where are you now?”, “Where do you want to go?”, “Who do you need?”, “do you have the skills to do it?”, before even giving consideration to the question of what technologies to use. The Second looked at the choices a manufacturers will face when adopting smart technologies in their processes and how practical they are.

In this, the third and last chapter, GAMBICA’s members will be talking about keeping your plant running and safe.

The consequences of something in you factory going wrong can be serious. There are security, time, cost and safety implications of a fault on your line, or a breach in your cyber security. In this arena Smart Manufacturing can be a double edged sword. On the one hand, connecting more of your machines and systems to the internet can introduce more vulnerabilities into your organisation, but conversely, IIOT and in particular, the advent of accessible AI, could also protect your site.

It is usually acknowledged that including some level of redundancy within a system is best practice. But of course there is a balance. As Mark Butters Omron UK’s General Manager notes “It’s all down to the cost of down time, that usually is more than the cost of adding redundant systems”.

But IIOT is turning this idea on it’s head. Alan Conn, Managing Director at B&R Industrial Automation Ltd. Thinks that condition-based monitoring will in some cases negate the need for redundancy. “[when you’ve got CBM] if you’re looking to have network redundancy on a small or medium line, you probably wouldn’t be able to justify the cost”. Chris Evans Marketing and Operations Manager at Mitsubishi Electric drills down on this point “But the point of [Industry] 4.0 and cyber-physical systems is about modelling at one level what is going to happen at another and working out where the gaps are”. But are machines intelligent enough to not only see the gaps but rectify itself? “Ah, well this is where AI comes in”.

Paul Streatfield Bosch Rexroth’s Product Manager want to know if anyone is really using AI in anger. “I think the phrase is ‘not yet’” chuckles Andrew Hodgson, Strategic Sales Lead for Digital at Siemens.

The emphasis is on the “yet”. We take for granted technology as we have it now, five years ago we didn’t. Indeed the hallmark of an industrial revolutions, we being in the 4th, is rapid technological changes – and it is changing very rapidly.

It’s not just condition-based monitoring that can protect your plant, cloud-based PLCs will fail-to-safe and protect your system if the cloud goes down. “But it could be down for a week” protests Chris Evans. “Yes” concedes David Randall, Business development manager for Lenze “it might be bad for the bank balance, but everything is still safe”.

As with everything, it’s about balancing what is important. And you might be able to predict failures before the process is even built. With digital twins being taken advantage of to the full, smart machines and factories can be virtually designed, virtually commissioned, virtually tested and virtual accepted before they are installed on the shop floor. They will work first time because, s Andrew Hodgson neatly put’s it “you’ve [already] beaten it to death in VR”. What’s more, Mark Butters points out, “You can also map against a theoretical failure,” all before the kit is installed.

The potential of new technology, with AI to make sure your factory keeps running is clear. But it comes with the need to make sure it’s protected too. The rate of rate of change and development of new technology is exponential. And the UK is known for “sweating the assets”. Chris Evans has often observed that UK manufacturers often have plants with really old kit “and they don’t realise that you can’t buy any spares they don’t realise the risk they are running on that system.” Andy Graham, Solution PT’s Wonderware Product Manager tells us that: “ it’s not just legacy equipment, it is exactly the same with SCADA. A huge percentage of upgrades we get are just for security reasons, because they know they need to get the latest window updates.” Running unsupported software is a huge security risk. The NHS cyber breach in 2017, where the IT systems of numerous NHS trusts were halted by ransomware was (partly) to blame because those trusts were running Windows XP and had thus made themselves vulnerable to such an attack.

There remains a tendency to think about cyber-attacks in terms of obtaining confidential and classified information; bank details, the emails of major political parties etc., much of the emphasis on cyber-security is about protecting the data.

But Andy Mills, Phoenix Contact’s Sales and Marketing Manager points out “you [a hacker] can actually get access to the machine or the factory and make changes” and that there is a tendency to forget that it’s not just laptops connected to a network these days “our controllers are connected and they need protecting”. Leaving you controller with the default password is not enough, Andy tells ups that “Any 15 year old hacker could take down a factory in the UK today, all they need is the manufacturers default code”. Chris Evans concurs, manufacturers can get security in at a product level but it’s the users responsibility to make it difficult [to hack]”.

Attacks on company operations still occur less than data breaches, but they are coming more common. And they can cost a company 10’s millions of pounds a time.

It’s no surprise that cyber security is cited as a common barrier to adoption of smart technologies. And when, as Paul Streatfied predicts that in the quickly changing world “controlling your machines using as virtual machine doesn’t seem that far away.” New technologies will just throw out another cyber security curve ball.

You would think that opting to run much of your operations off cloud based servers would be less secure. You after all do not have control over your information. But Andy Hodgson tells me that although “a lot of companies want a virtual cloud within their “fence” to avoid cyber risks, companies like Siemens use Azure and Amazon WS because how many can you point to someone in the organisation and say cyber security “that’s their job” so why not leave it to an expert?”. Andy Mills agrees “they’ve been designed with that [Cyber security] in mind, whereas the traditional controller that have been connected to the Internet, not so much”.

There isn’t the moment a law that requires cyber security in your process, though I get the impression everyone in the group would like to see one. And though all the manufacturers include some higher-level of protection in their products, when you’re working with legacy controllers or haven’t bothered to change the password, you are at a high risk of having your production being stopped.

This is clearly a subject of high importance. I ask what is the overarching message the group want to give. Andy Mills put’s it simply “make sure your password is changed. If you don’t your device is complete open”.

For our last session, I ask the group what the future holds. While we have a sense of what smart technologies are on the cusp of becoming commercially available, we can’t really see more than the next few years ahead. But this is no reason for the UK to wait and see. The case for adoption can be made now. As the GAMBICA members have shown in this series, so long as you start with what you’re trying to achieve and have everyone on board, then the technology choices should fall into place.

But the thing that is important to remember is this, you don’t need to do everything at once, journey’s are a series of steps, and ultimately as Andy Hodgson sums up quite nicely “We are moving from Manufacturing to Smart manufacturing but eventually the end goal is not Smart Manufacturing but a smart business.”