Industry 4.0 is all about connecting devices and gathering information
Published on : Sunday 01-08-2021
Rajmohan N, Digital Head for ABB Process Industries in South Asia, Middle East and Africa
The theme of connected plants has been promoted since long – decades even. It becomes an important topic in Industry 4.0 as well. So, what is new – in the concept and in implementation?
The concept of connected and autonomous manufacturing plants has been a human dream for many years now. Over the past 5 years, rapidly emerging concepts in self-reporting, self-performing equipment have fuelled the imagination of plant operators and technology providers worldwide. Connected plants simply put are plants with real-time visibility, providing insights into plant operations, and when leveraged to its full potential, will provide predictive capability and autonomous operation.
This concept is not new, but the true change agent is the scale and sheer ubiquity of data. How we capture it, store it, contextualise it, analyse it; and how we create insights from data spread across functions and across systems – whether IT, OT, ET, geospatial, or any other such source. The new technological drivers enable an exponential amount of data to be captured and insights gleaned out of the same. Some of these drivers include the rise of cloud computing, the adoption of IPV6, pervasive connectivity, and the emergence of the connected consumer.
A connected plant in the digital world is attainable through connectivity to assets, machines and control systems, and by leveraging digital technologies such as Big Data, cloud, mobility, API-based integration, microservices, and artificial intelligence and machine learning algorithms. These algorithms can give rise to a ‘Cognitive Plant’. The cognitive plant uses an intelligent self-learning system that can build a model based on data from multiple sensors online. These systems will continue to learn and expand the scope of batch and continuous processing models.
Integrating monitoring data from all sources in the plant including electrical and control systems provide thorough information for continued improvements and adopting new methods for the same process or activity, by decision-makers. Remote operation and services reduce personnel exposure in hazardous/remote areas and fix issues faster.
Industry 4.0 is not only about investing in new technologies and tools to improve manufacturing efficiency but also about completely changing the way the entire company operates and develops.
A fully connected plant seems utopian. What is a realistic vision that plant managers should aim for?
A more realistic vision for a connected plant or Industry 4.0 should not revolve around smarter machines, but smarter analytics from the existing machines. It is all about how the plants leverage the true power of data to transform industrial operational excellence. Today to succeed, Industry 4.0 principles and techniques are key. How we use artificial intelligence and machine learning; and how we truly maximise the power of analytics is the true secret to getting ingrained, completely, into the Industry 4.0 era.
An array of benefits and new ways to run the operations emerge out of the use of advanced computing technologies that enable the creation and use of applications like the Digital Twin.
When it comes to choosing a solution, adopting the path of least resistance is a good start – solutions based on an open architecture that can easily connect with existing systems and minimise the need for immediate change management; such that the move to digitalisation is a well-planned one. In choosing the solution and approach, it is also prudent to factor in scalability, if an enterprise solution isn't being implemented – solutions that are extensible from edge to plant and eventually to enterprise-level ensure complete coverage over time.
Connectivity protocols are a central topic for total interoperability, and today OPC UA appears to be dominating this space. What are the pros and cons of OPC UA, and would it hinder further innovation?
Over the years, many different protocols have emerged in the Manufacturing Industry – leading to several communication interfaces that need to be supported within one environment. Industry 4.0 is all about connecting devices and gathering information through open protocols. Since its inception, OPC has revolutionised communication with other systems, but with the growing multitude of data, the need for an enhanced open network has seen a surge over the last decade on the OT side.
Building on the success of OPC, OPC UA was designed to enhance and surpass the capabilities of the OPC specifications. OPC UA eased out communication among different systems and communication with the Cloud. It is highly scalable and easy to maintain. Though it is secure by design, we need to take care of minimum cybersecurity requirements to protect the systems. There is scope to improve further on security, expanding the data types and cloud providers that support OPC UA, support of direct conversion from earlier industry protocols, and Integration with heritage systems that are proprietary protocol-centric designs. The latest innovative technologies, surely, can bring more flexibility and security to OPA UA.
A connected plant offers advantages of efficiency. Does it also become more vulnerable to cyber-attacks, which become more sophisticated by the day?
Previously the industrial environment was mainly an isolated network, with the control systems integrated with various hardware and software. Now, the industrial system architecture has evolved with collaborative mechanisms that have been integrated.
As the degree of connectivity increases, it is imperative to implement an in-depth cybersecurity strategy.
The cybersecurity threat has matured significantly, and we see a huge increase in the volume and the types of high-quality malware that have been developed. The cybercriminals are also approaching the attack with a business mind-set and are creating a well-planned process to choose their targets.
As per the dichotomy of attack, the generic attacks are termed White Noise. These can be generic malware from the IT world, like ransomware, which affects the OT world too. And, there are targeted attacks, like Triton, custom malware specifically crafted for the target environment. This dichotomy is applicable today and it will be applicable in the future also. However, white noise can be comparatively easily handled.
To address the white noise type of attacks, we need to maintain the security posture. Foundation control is one of the strategies which should be in place to maintain security postures, along with regular security patch updates, antivirus, backup, network segmentation, etc. For targeted attacks, we need to cover for advanced threat management and be more resilient. Cyber resilience is the ability to plan, respond and recover from cyber-attacks and data breaches while continuing to work effectively.
A smart corporate recognises the benefits of a fully connected system while also recognising and counteracting these threats. There should be a clear distinction between Cybersecurity and Cyber resilience. Cyber resilience is a business strategy on how to conduct business in a digital environment. Building and implementing an advanced cybersecurity strategy with advanced threat detection and protection that can mitigate such risks. Companies, like ABB, with vast OT experience and a proven track record of cyber-attack resilience, can help to define and implement these strategies in a pragmatic manner.
Rajmohan N is an experienced business manager who has demonstrated ability to create new business growth, develop new markets, execute program management to deliver business results and drive lasting customer relationships. He has good technical and business knowledge with a track record of more than 25 years of hands on experience in strategic planning, business development, project management, customer relationship and business unit management in organisations like ABB, MphasiS Ltd (an EDS company) and CA Tech. Rajmohan has excellent ability to infect passion to team members by lateral thinking approaches and drive them to be winners.