As I communicate with diverse manufacturers/processors I find some have already taken steps to prepare for the next revolution/evolution of their shop floor and overall data infrastructure.
They “get” the importance of a centralized data pipe and what that can do to their security, production and bottom line. However, there are as many that really haven’t, amazingly.
For those companies already preparing their plant floor network infrastructures for the coming communications direction/development, this article most likely will not be for you. For everyone else… Let’s talk.
Terms to get acquainted with:
Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT)
Analytics – Business Intelligence (BI)
Mobility and all its forms
Data collaboration, (conversion and collection)
If you’re not yet ready to take the plunge… you should at least start a plan of migration. A plan to take you from where you’re at now to where you need to be. A plan to capitalize on your shop floor communications and data evolution. Partnering with the right folks can really help here as well. Afterall, your primary focus is production so why not bring in the experts.
Three Critical Areas – Shop Floor Connectivity
To simplify the plan/direction I would recommend these three primary areas for effective plant floor connectivity:
- Logical topology
- Physical infrastructure
All three work together and typically depend on one another. A qualified IT group and Software integrator (like Coolearth) can assist you with the details and plans specifying, designing, deploying and supporting all three areas. Let’s take a deeper look at what this means to you.
Security is critical to connecting your internal network (plant management software, industrial automation and control systems – IACS for example) to the outside world. This includes allowing outside technicians/developers connecting their laptops directly to internal equipment and software solutions.
Security can be breached from many sources (mobile, home, smartphones, etc.) without proper safeguards. The good news is that there are new ways to combat this with Domainless Directory Services and Zero Trust processes as well as deploying firewalls and demilitarized zones (DMZs). If this makes your eyes roll… and you don’t have the expertise in house, there are plenty of IT organizations that can help.
Another area of focus is the overall network topology and configuration. Simply put, this is the data switching and routing infrastructure on your plant floor network that smart devices connect to via Ethernet/Wireless.
Amazingly, I see slapped together infrastructures that were last minute patches with no thought to any long-term plan and/or security. This type of approach has performance, reliability issues and more importantly they’re not scalable or secure.
A plan of segmenting the network and following a standardized infrastructure model with core, distribution and access layers can provide a modular framework that you can grow with is needed. This implementation does take a special skill set however.
The physical infrastructure (physical layer) of your network within your manufacturing facility (i.e. copper/fiber cabling, pathways, enclosures and endpoint connections) is oftentimes overlooked.
Professional design, installation and certification will provide a data highway that’s high performance and can be trusted.
As we all move at lightning speed into the future, our reliance on actionable information will increase exponentially as time goes on. Planning for a robust physical network layer helps mitigate risk, ensuring that data is where it is needed when it is needed. A really good thing.
Regardless of where you’re at on your shop floor connectivity initiatives, focusing on your network’s security, topology and overall connectivity throughout your organization is a great plan and should be implemented. Once done, the holistic company wide data information crucial to success can be realized and stand up to future growth.
Coolearth Software can help with all your plant management and warehousing needs. With the right infrastructure we can help you achieve the speed, accuracy and data needed for success in today’s market. Give us a call and let’s start the conversation.