Manufacturer’s Checklist for Future-Proofing the Factory Floor

A ‘future-proofed’ factory. In the past, this might mean a factory that utilized steam technology. Or was an early adopter of electricity. Today, a future-proofed factory is synonymous with the next industrial revolution – Industry 4.0 – and the use of cyber-physical technology across the manufacturing chain.

Future-proof: fu-ture proof |

Adjective. (A product or system) unlikely to become obsolete.

Verb. To make (a product or system) future-proof.

Cyber-physical technologies and Industry 4.0 are the future of manufacturing. The advantages they create on the factory floor – improved product quality, machine utilization, and a reduction in unplanned downtime, to start – breeds continued success for early adopters. Their advantage multiplies the longer it takes competitors to adopt new technologies, making it more and more difficult for laggards to keep pace.

Early adopters thrive. Competitors struggle to survive.

But future-proofing the factory floor is not solely about adopting Industry 4.0 solutions. Future-proofing requires an investment across resource categories if manufacturers want a factory that’s built to last.

Is your factory future-proof? Compare it against our list of must-have features to find out.

Must-have #1: Talent

Investing in your people and technology go hand-in-hand. Without the right technology, your people cannot perform at their best. Without the right skills and talent in your organization, the best technology won’t make a difference to your results.

A future-proofed factory requires both: the right technology and the right talent to operate it.

The good news is that investments in technology and talent can complement each other. An investment in video technology, for example, not only makes it possible to introduce remote troubleshooting and video on the factory floor – it also provides a way to train employees and offer continuing education programs.

Discover more ways video technology can help address the talent gap now.

Must-have #2: Cybersecurity

The introduction of the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) to the plant floor has created new challenges for IT and manufacturing leaders. One of the most significant is cybersecurity, as factories continue to be one of the most attractive targets for malware and ransomware attacks.

The reason? Unprotected industrial networks and legacy control systems.

At a minimum, any plans to future-proof a factory must include a defense-in-depth cybersecurity strategy. The future is going to be digital. The same level of data protection we want for our personal data should be applied to our workplaces. Would you want anyone to have access to your home computer network?

And yet manufacturing leaders often underestimate the importance of cybersecurity on the plant floor. One-fifth of Canadian manufacturers have admitted they have not taken any steps to defend against cyberattacks. Would you trust those companies with your information?

A cybersecurity strategy protects not only the sensitive data on the factory floor, it also increases consumer confidence in an organization. And with proper security layers in place – such as an Industrial Demilitarized Zone (IDMZ) and access controls – data goes where you want it to, nowhere else.

Read more about the steps you can take to secure your factory floor from cyber threats.

Must have #3: Industrial Network

All factories have an industrial network, but future-proofed factories have an industrial network built on a Converged Plantwide Ethernet (CPwE) architecture. The difference? Many legacy industrial networks are flat, with no segmentation of traffic between controls, process devices, supervisory devices, and factory operations. Put another way, your I/O devices can ‘speak’ directly to your HMIs.

Why is a flat industrial network bad for business? First, it makes the factory more vulnerable to cyber threats. If all an attacker needs to do is hack an I/O or PAC to gain access to the entire factory (and worse, the enterprise network if no IDMZ is in place), then the fallout of an attack will be much greater. Second, a flat network offers very little back up (redundancy) if one of the few switches on the network fail.

In a segmented industrial network built with CPwE, each level of control systems are defined and assigned their own switches to ensure traffic is routed properly, securely, and without data loss. In addition, each level is designed with redundancy in mind. If one switch goes down, another picks up the excess traffic. No downtime.

Learn more about the advantages of the CPwE architecture.

Bonus read: Why an IT network improves factory floor operations

Must-have #4: Culture

Building a factory for the future requires leadership. Implementing the first three must-haves in this checklist requires significant financial, time and human resource investments that should not be ignored. To be successful, leadership must fully commit to Industry 4.0 and initiate a top-down cultural shift for employees to follow. For leadership to advocate for Industry 4.0 and a future-proofed factory, the value of implementing these solutions must be clear:

Less downtime. Fewer defects. Better asset utilization. Faster time-to-market. Lower costs.

Introducing these concepts to leadership and having a conversation around factory vulnerability is a good way to gauge readiness for a future-proofed factory. BDC recently issued a report that provided incredible data on the success of Industry 4.0 projects in Canada.

If you’re ready to future-proof your factory, we can help. Contact us now.

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