The Internet and cloud computing movements are gaining momentum and in full swing in many sectors in our society, including banking, healthcare, education, government, the services industry in general, and almost all areas of our personal life. Yet, despite the advent of IIoT technologies and Industry 4.0, and all the glitter and spectacular promise it appears to offer, many manufacturers are reluctant to connect their machines, assembly lines or processes to the internet. Why is that?
I have spent many hours in many plants in recent years, and this conversation has come up often. Here’s what I believe are the top 3 reasons manufacturers aren’t connecting their machines to the internet, starting with #3.
#3: Older ‘Legacy’ Equipment is Expensive to Upgrade
Many manufacturers have a wide variety of machine types, especially job shops and companies with many discrete manufacturing processes. The cost to upgrade them all with newer control systems is high, not to mention difficult, and the cost to replace them even higher. Since the machine continues to produce an acceptable quantity and quality of parts in its current state, the cost of the upgrade would have a long ROI.
#2: Security Concerns
This is a concern I hear about most often. Yes, all the other sectors above have the same concerns but have counted on the security systems built into the technology as well their own IT people, firewalls and strict policies, but many manufacturers I speak with remain unconvinced. Manufacturers are ‘tactile’ people, and their processes are equally ‘tactile’; its not numbers in an account, or an electronic transaction, or a video or a document, it’s a physical action, movement and part being produced. The thought of a machine being taken control of by an outside source is a scary proposition. Equally disconcerting is the thought that all their critical and sensitive production and product information is not securely locked down in their internal IT system, but it would be stored somewhere “out there”, outside of their four walls, and potentially available to others through hacking. The larger the manufacturing company is, the more serious the concern for this kind data.
#1: Little or No Perceived Benefit to Connect Their Machine to the Internet
For most manufacturers I speak with, this is true for them. The information they need access to is information needed in the plant, by people in the plant. By the time a machine is commissioned for production in a plant, there is little benefit to collect ‘lakes’ of data on all sorts of granular process information. At this point, the company is just looking for what I refer to as “fit bit” information: is the machine or process healthy? What’s its rate? How many parts did it produce? And, if it’s not running, why not? All this information is pretty simple to extract even from legacy machines at a very low cost, but there’s little or no benefit to pushing it up to the cloud – certainly not enough benefit to offset their security concerns. So why bother?
There are good reasons to make more information more accessible to more people in real time, most notable being productivity and efficiency, but it can be accomplished without connecting the machine directly to the internet. The biggest advantage of cloud-based software is the low cost of powerful and flexible software available that is easily adaptable and accessible from anywhere. Manufacturing companies need these kinds of IT solutions to remain competitive, and indeed to stay ahead, but they can do so by leveraging cloud-based solutions that help their people be more productive, without connecting their machines to the internet.
At FreePoint, the focus has always been on making the people smarter, because its people that make the machines run better and the processes run smoother. They are the ones that can most benefit from a connection to the cloud, not the machines. The connection to the machine can be indirect and ‘non-invasive’ (i.e. impossible to control externally). There are still some security risks to allowing use of cloud-based software, but those should be managed the same as all other personal cloud-based applications need to be.
For more information on FreePoint’s risk mitigated cloud-based machine monitoring and productivity improvement solutions, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org