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The Challenges of Creating an Intelligent, Integrated and Diverse Internet of Things for Industrial Manufacturing

By Ian Skeels - Manufacturing Technologies Association (Technical Manager)

Friday, 8 January 2016

Background and Context – Moving from Connectivity-Limited to a Totally Interconnected Paradigm

For decades the Electronic Controls Industry has been dominated by major OEM players such as Siemens, FANUC, Heidenhain, Schneider-Electric, Allen Bradly and Mitsubishi; with many of these organisations have invested substantially (USD millions+) in Selling, Administration & Research (SAR).  Their solutions are deployed in applications ranging from Manufacturing, Oil & Gas, Defence, Medical, FMCG, Transportation, Energy, Water, Retail, and Power.  They drive manufacturing forward, power our homes, supply our water and keep our 21st century society functioning.  

The rapid explosion in always on internet connectivity is touching everyone and everywhere; it is encouraging a revolution in the "how this affects everything" upon several stages worldwide – including global manufacturing, where a host of new and subtle strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats are emerging.  How we build on the strengths, mitigate the weaknesses, seize the opportunities and deal with the threats will define the success of the paradigm.  

The obvious security omnipresent threats are all-too-familiar in the consumer electronics market, which albeit not a direct comparison presents a vista of the challenges that other industries may learn from; since "machines" are communicating with each other near enough every second of every day, these threats are counterbalanced with opportunities for command, control, service, information analytics, action (both local and remote) as well as closed-loop feedback that Industry 4.0 is starting to foresee.  

Strengths, Weaknesses and Benefits

In Consumer Electronics and IT the benefits of connectivity have been realised globally due to the aggressive pace of change in these industries; whilst by contrast the historical pace of change in other industries, such as manufacturing has been naturally slower.  This is, in part, due to the advent of Whole-Lifecycle Product Management and New Product Introduction methodologies that together with their output drive society to interact and adopt new, unique and different technologies with a frequent drumbeat.  Thus, some industries are geared towards yielding many generations of product and/or service within a short and usually commercially defined timespan; by contrast conventional manufacturing operations in industries such as Medical/Pharmaceutical, Aerospace and Automotive may see little obviously rapid change within this timescale.  However, if communication drives change then manufacturing is set to face to new, unique and different challenges, as it takes its seat at the globally interconnected table. Here are a few: 

  • Hypothetically, if one were wanting to hire 3-D Printing or CNC machining capacity as a potential customer, why shouldn't it be possible to:

·         Go to a live supplier website that is intelligently connected to an end-to-end lean production control system;

·         Create an account and enter credentials;

·         Establish contact, negotiate, specify and agree terms and conditions;

·         Upload a 3-D DXF file for widget “A” and then promptly get an email back assuring safe receipt;

·         Get a real-time view of the production capacity and then specify a production and delivery schedule online;

·         Purchase that capacity, agree a forecast and finally jointly manage production online.

Two weeks later the first shipments of widget “A” begin arriving.  Online consumer shopping meets manufacturing for rapid prototyping and standard production, which promotes competition by enabling smaller "hobbyist" entities gain a market foothold (particularly in low volume design-driven disciplines).

  • Building soft skills project management, communication, presentation and report writing in people, through training, practical vocational experience and academic excellence that will create the next generation of entrepreneurs, scientists, engineers and mathematicians is essential; and without which Industry 4.0 may not flourish. 
  • If you are an owner and operator of a fleet of large industrial multi-megawatt turbines scattered globally, each powering a small urban conurbation - one could use internet connected technology to supervise, control and remotely monitor asset and fleet performance thereby using data to facilitate the provision of service.  Fault finding and diagnosis can be achieved anywhere and anytime.  Equally for the turbine manufacturer closed-loop informatics on performance, usage and maintenance could serve to influence the design and manufacturing processes for future product, as well as create service provision opportunities.  
  • Manufacturing assets generally speaking require predictive, preventative and reactive maintenance.  Modularised, intelligently controlled and secure informatics technology combined with a fleet of knowledge-based drones may offer a route to achieving semi-automation of uptime, testing and maintenance on a 24/7 schedule.  This brings the utopian vision of self-healing automated systems a little closer.
  • With 3-D printing creating excitement and buzz worldwide there are opportunities to use big data, Artificial Intelligence and cloud analytics to semi-automate hybrid and composite research in innovative additive manufacturing.  Such research could be aimed at identifying new resin compounds and advanced moulding techniques with hitherto unique characteristics and properties including:

·         Radioisotopic;

·         Electromagnetic;

·         Thermal;

·         Optical;

·         Sonic;

·         Abrasive;

·         Tensile strength;

·         Elastic and “memory”.

Such semi-automated materials research together with additive moulding techniques would have near limitless applications enabling anything to be created by anyone with tools, capability and know-how to do so.             

Challenges, Opportunities and Conclusions

Although historically electronic control systems have had constraints that have tended to limit connectivity – with systems seldom networked and even if so without the familiarly rigorous substantial IT doctrine and infrastructure – the future may hold a vision of a far greater communication and connectivity that almost organically grows ever broader, deeper and more diverse; and which constantly drives change and threats alike.  In a manufacturing context the push towards connectivity of systems is likely to develop a demand for innovation, processes, services and products covering the entire lifecycle of every aspect of technology together with impacts on computing, science, engineering and mathematics. 

An obvious starting point is the need for organisations to develop and launch an integrated manufacturing IT strategy and roadmap, which is tactically astute in terms of considering the approach to tackling the following challenges:

  • Challenge 1 – Connectivity Revolution vs. Modest “As-Is” Security Approaches of Industrial Applications:  Considering the present rapid growth system networking both of computers and controls systems, as exemplified by the Internet of Things (and to an equivalent extent of GE's equivalent "The Industrial Internet") all responsible owners, operators and stakeholders in many applications, should consider that there is likely to be a proportionate growth in cyber-threats (including crime, espionage, terrorism and warfare), originating from diverse online actors with serious and direct implications particularly towards: Intellectual Property, Infrastructure, Investment, Safety and Security (covering National, Supranational, Individual and Corporate scope).   
  • Challenge 2 – Ever Present Information Security:  This is an essential point within the overall approach because increased networking reliance presents avenues for sensitive information ranging from passwords to intellectual property to be accessed, modified, assimilated or distributed by unauthorised entities. 
  • Challenge 3 – Future Internet-ready Telecommunications Medium and Protocol:  Entities will need to consider both what physical telecommunications infrastructure they use as well as the protocols that run upon it.  Internet Protocol (IP) version 4 and/or version 6:  The exhaustion of IPv4 addresses has been a known issue since the early 1990s.  Whilst IPv4 is established, with a variety of chipsets supporting network integration with almost anything thereby enabling simpler rapid design and implementation a too-fast-too-soon route may further compound the issue of address exhaustion.  Conversely IPv6 addresses are ideal for moving towards a totally interconnected future with circa 340 billion, billion, billion, billion addresses; though this may require additional design and engineering.
  • Challenge 4 – Building Digital Manufacturing Leaders:  Arguably the most important of all the challenges is having leaders who understand the coal-face of technology deeply enough across the spectrum; foreseeing the organisational, socioenvironmental, political, legal, regulatory dimensions that will shape the face of Industry 4.0.
  • Opportunity 1 – Networking Security Innovation and Continuous Improvement:  Responsible owners and stakeholders should see an opportunity to lead-the-field in ensuring investment in the Networking Security category – both from an innovative standpoint and in terms of continuous improvement.  Developing applied Manufacturing IT as a core competence in people should be seen as both an academic and industrial imperative.  Whilst this may carry an administrative burden, particularly as the first organisations or individuals to assert competence first, may very well seize an emerging market focussed on the solution provision of protective and secure technology including anti-malware, encryption, firewalls, traffic monitoring and access control. 
  • Opportunity 2 – Isolation:  Security can of course come in the total separation category; organisations can opt for the complete physical separation and development of their own infrastructure, covering everything from storage, to Operating Systems to communication protocols.  This will serve to obviate any attempt to compromise Intellectual Property (IP) via external actors.  This is of course an excellent defacto security approach particularly for organisations with an absolute and uncompromising approach to risk.  Nonetheless, it carries the downsides of innovation-isolation, dependency on proprietary infrastructure and increased internal resource burden.  In simple practical terms an example might be to move away from Microsoft Windows based platforms to real-time Linux.
  • Opportunity 3 – Information Security Centres of Excellence for Manufacturing:  Ensure that information covering whole-life cycle disciplines (such as design, development, process, know-how, trade secret, and technical) is subject to protection that includes access control, suitably robust encryption, secure destruction perhaps working towards a level of resilience comparable to near self-aware quantum data (that can display behaviour indicating access).       
  • Opportunity 4 – Organisations that define their approach with a clear plan and rationale stand to provide themselves with a firm footing for future connectivity benefits.
  • Opportunity 5 – Building leaders who have the core skillset together with the digital manufacturing commercial acumen is an opportunity that will require collaboration between companies, governments and community entities at all levels in society.  For all manufacturing organisations this exemplifies the need to build a digital manufacturing audience from primary school age upwards by leveraging social responsibility initiatives.