The growing use of Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) worldwide is in the process of turning the concept of smart factories into reality. The phenomenon has been described by observers as the fourth industrial revolution, or Industry 4.0 for short.
Industry 4.0 promises to combine digital technologies – such as big data, data analytics, artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning – with all-pervasive internet connectivity to produce vast quantities of valuable data.
Companies then mine, analyze and convert the information into a wealth of insights. The knowledge is then used to boost factory productivity, increase supply chain efficiency and make substantial cost savings.
As always, new trends bring fresh challenges. Connecting industrial machinery to the outside world can lead to new security risks. Deployment of virtual private networks (VPNs) can help reduce such risks significantly, ensuring that Industry 4.0’s data treasures stay hidden from unwelcome observers.
Manufacturers everywhere are placing great faith in IIoT’s potential to take their industrial processes to a whole new level.
PWC in its 2016 Global Industry 4.0 Survey expects manufacturing organizations to commit $907 billion a year – around 5% of revenue – to developing Industry 4.0 applications. If the figures sound dramatic, so too are the expected returns on investment (ROI). It is predicted that firms investing in Industry 4.0 will achieve ROI within two years.
Already in 2017 there are an estimated 9 billion connected IoT devices in 2017 – one third are industry-related, according to Gartner. The electronics industry leads the way with investments totalling $243 billion a year through to 2020, closely followed by engineering & construction ($195 billion) and industrial manufacturing ($177 billion).
Measuring IIoT Success
Industrial cost savings are anticipated across the board by 2020.
PWC’s study interviewed 2,000 respondents drawn from aerospace and defense, automotive, chemicals, electronics, engineering and construction, paper and packaging, industrial manufacturing, metals and transportation and logistics. Cost reductions across the nine industries have a weighted average of 3.6%. In financial terms, that’s a saving of $421 billion.
The most effective cost-saving method to emerge from Industry 4.0 is automated inventory management, which enhances both the supplier’s and buyer’s business performance.
Aside from obvious ROI results, investments in Industry 4.0 will be measured by its impact on a range of factors including corporate vision, management strategy, process innovation, productivity and adoption of internationally recognized industry standards.
A recent study from Bsquare revealed that manufacturers are most commonly adopting IIoT to handle logistics challenges (95%), followed by machine health (82%) and operating costs (34%).
Out in the Open
Despite all its benefits, there’s one aspect of Industry 4.0 that still concerns IT managers. Factory machines connected to the Internet may attract unwelcomed attention from treasure hunters seeking to intercept the data for their own profit.
It is estimated that manufacturing businesses gather around two exabytes of data every day. Sensors built in to all kinds of devices from motors to conveyor systems alongside other factory assets pump out data continuously.
In some cases, it is needed for feeding into related systems such as enterprise resource planning (ERP), line-level programmable logic controllers and human-machine interfaces. In others, it is needed for analysis by complex data analytics and AI systems that ultimately lead to better-informed decision-making.
The security dilemma can be handled in a number of ways, although almost all are constraints on ease-of-use. Furthermore, devices are under constant threat from new malware variants and must be capable of secure remote management so that they may be kept up-to-date with the latest patches and software upgrades.
Shielding Valuable Data with VPNs
Essential machine-to-machine (M2M) communications security has been achievable for some time using remote VPN services.
Centrally managed VPN connectivity is a positive first step in shielding valuable IIoT data from prying eyes. It allows device software to be patched and upgraded remotely in a secure and cost-efficient manner.
Other qualities are device authentication for verification purposes along with logging and alerting capabilities to notify IT admins of unauthorized access attempts or tampering.
In conclusion, Industry 4.0 is fast turning manufacturing and utilities companies into digitally driven, data centric powerhouses who are entirely dependent on the constant mining of valuable information to stay efficient and competitive.
Both customers and suppliers, however, recognize that more needs to be done to realize the full potential of Industry 4.0. Device manufacturers must develop products that adhere to industry approved security standards while customers need to carefully balance their roll-out of Industry 4.0 against its implications for security practices.
Industry 4.0 is expected to evolve rapidly starting with localised solutions before expanding outwards to encompass cloud applications and secure connectivity between manufacturers and their supply chains.
VPNs allow device authentication, updating and patching to be managed remotely from a central point – helping manufacturers to shield Industry 4.0’s treasures from the unwelcome attention of cybercriminals and industrial spies.