Don’t Let Your Plant Floor Network Get Left Behind—OT Modernization
October 27, 2020

Don’t Let Your Plant Floor Network Get Left Behind—OT Modernization

Technological innovations and industrial trends such as Industry 4.0, the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), and machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI) are changing the way manufacturing facilities operate. As adoption of these technological advances proliferates, more devices need to connect to the plant floor and even the enterprise network, making networks and systems throughout the organization more vulnerable.

As a result of increased connectivity, traditional plant floor network architectures based on linear relationships, such as the Purdue Model, are becoming obsolete. Therefore, to take advantage of the latest industrial technology and trends, many manufacturing organizations need to modernize their operations technology (OT) by looking beyond traditional plant floor architectures. Let’s get started by first looking at three big reasons you may need to think about OT modernization now.

Reason #1: Your Plant Floor Network is Becoming Increasingly Convoluted

When a plant floor engineer connects a valve in a control system, they clearly understand the work involved and the implications of the connection. But when that same engineer starts connecting devices to the network over Ethernet, it’s likely they can get the device to work. But, it’s also likely they don’t completely understand all the implications of the connections they are making.

This is a common occurrence on the plant floor. Oftentimes, equipment that was once isolated is replaced with new equipment connected to the Internet without a comprehensive plan. As this occurs more frequently, and more undocumented connections are made, it’s easy to create a spiderweb of network connections that will become increasingly hard to trace.

Reason #2: A Growing Need to Connect Business Systems to Production

As continuous improvement efforts become more and more important, integration of plant and business infrastructure is crucial. Both sides of the organization need to communicate efficiently and have readily available access to the same plant floor data. Therefore, there needs to be a secure way to interact between systems like the corporate enterprise resource planning (ERP) platform and the manufacturing execution system (MES) managing the plant floor.

Reason #3: Increasing Demands for Reliable Remote Access

With the threats manufacturers across all industries are currently facing because of COVID-19 there is a growing need for remote access to the plant floor. Manufacturers need to keep operations running while minimizing the number of people on the plant floor, which includes enabling remote support for vendors.

As a result, standalone islands of automation are becoming a thing of the past. For example, an organization may have a palletizer running on its own not connected to the network. Therefore, the only way to support this machine when downtime occurs is to have someone come onsite. However, equipment suppliers are now including technology to integrate their machines into the network to enable remote support through an organization’s DMZ, a feature manufacturers should really be preparing to utilize if they are not already.

Getting Started with OT Modernization: Auditing Your Existing Network

If your organization is currently experience any of these three things, it’s time to think about OT modernization. To get started, you first need to determine what you’re working with. Oftentimes, facility managers don’t have a comprehensive understanding of their plant floor networks as the network has typically grown organically for years, with individuals, who may no longer be at the company, having made changes that aren’t well documented.

This is why the first step in the Cybertrol process is to perform a site study and network/security audit. This involves two steps. First, we interview key stakeholders to determine where the network is today and to identify business requirements. Then, we perform a comprehensive plant floor audit to generate an inventory of all devices and a map of all connections. In short, the goal of the network assessment is to identify current network issues and serve as a starting point for infrastructure development, expansion, and upgrade discussions.

Setting OT Modernization Goals

Once there is an understanding about what is on the plant floor, we manage a discussion on goals of the modernized network. Some of the common goals we see include the following:

  • Improving reliability and uptime
  • Enabling Industry 4.0 and other new technologies
  • Getting data seamlessly to corporate data scientists to make better data-driven decisions
  • Upgrading the organizations security posture to prevent malicious activity

We understand that every organization is unique and modernization goals will always be different.

Developing a Modernization Plan Based on Prioritization and Scalability

Next, we work with IT and OT managers to develop a modernization plan. It’s not realistic to perform a site assessment and then do everything all at once, which is why prioritization is essential. For our implementations, we use the Converged Plantwide Ethernet Design (CPwE) guidelines and the Implementation Guide from Rockwell and Cisco, as starting points for standardization and developing a long-term plant floor infrastructure strategy.

Additionally, when developing a modernization plan, it’s crucial to keep scalability top of mind since the number of devices that need to the network will only continue to increase. As technology and business goals change over time, OT needs will also change, which means your OT road map needs to evolve.

Working with Cybertrol to Manage Your OT Modernization

Since OT modernization crosses the line between the plant and the enterprise, multiple stakeholders throughout the organization need to be involved. On the operations side, OT managers understand the plant floor processes and devices that need to be connected, but they don’t usually completely understand the implications of connections. On the IT side, IT managers generally understand everything down to the firewall or switches on the floor, but not really what is connected where or what is going on in all the control cabinets.

This leaves a gap that needs to be filled when it comes to fully understanding the plant floor network, and working with Cybertrol Engineering can fill that gap. We function as the middle ground between the plant floor and corporate IT, executives and the plant, and executives and the corporate IT group to facilitate your OT modernization goals. We drive successful OT modernization plans by working to fully understand your goals and then designing and implementing the best solution with your objectives and budget in mind.

Contact the Cybertrol Engineering automation solutions division to start a conversation about your OT modernization needs.