Take full control of your industrial networks

Time flies is a classic expression in today’s fast-evolving world. However, the constant feeling of having a lot to complete within a short period leads to stress and losing an overview. But when attention to detail is lost, results can be negatively affected.

Many studies have shown that factories lose between 5% and 20% in productivity due to unplanned downtime, where just one minute of downtime can cost thousands of pounds, depending on your type of industry. Procentec explains how you can keep your plant running 24/7, maximise productivity and reduce network failure?

Time flies is a classic expression in today’s fast-evolving world. However, the constant feeling of having a lot to complete within a short period leads to stress and losing an overview. But when attention to detail is lost, results can be negatively affected.

Procentec, a diagnostic solutions provider for industrial automation, has always put the user experience into focus. Together, entering the race against time, the company enables users to take back the driver’s seat and control the outcome.

Unplanned downtime

According to a report titled After the Fall:  Cost, Causes and Consequences of Unplanned Downtime, published by market research company Vanson Bourne, 82% of companies experienced at least one unplanned downtime outage over the past three years. Unplanned downtime can cost more than £180,000 an hour across all businesses. And with an average of two episodes of downtime lasting four hours each, this adds up to more than £1.5m.

Besides the direct financial costs, companies also need to consider the other consequences downtime may bring. For instance, a loss of customer trust, fines for missing targets of failing to supply, reputational damage, impact on shares etc.

The report also stated that zero tolerance and unplanned downtime would become the norm over time as companies develop and invest in their industrial digital strategies.

Industry4.Human

It takes two to four years to master an industrial protocol, like PROFIBUS or PROFINET fully. Gaining, updating, and sharing that knowledge is a big challenge in this quickly changing environment. The knowledge gained through experience yesterday may not be the knowledge your workforce needs to be effective today. In addition, the number of sites that run multiple protocols is increasing, unleashing a new set of tasks and knowledge.

Bringing humans back into focus to counteract the potential negative effects of Industry 4.0 is one of the core goals at Procentec. In fact, designing solutions for technicians working with industrial networks led the company to develop the ‘Industry 4.Human’ concept in 2019. The ethos behind Industry 4.Human is empowering humans who use Industry 4.0 technologies, in particular automation networks.

When facing unexpected downtime, a technician’s experience is essential in accessing the right information, performing a network analysis, and determining the best repair path. In this fault-finding process, analysing a network can take a technician several days with no diagnostic solution. Nowadays, it can be solved with the digitalisation of expert knowledge, smartly applied via the solutions or partners you choose.

Helping thousands of technicians on a daily basis, ProfiTrace has proven to be an essential tool for maintaining and troubleshooting PROFIBUS systems. This mobile combi-analyser easily identifies typical failures such as noise, reflections, voltage drops, termination problems, double addresses, wire breaks, and configuration faults.

The Mercury offers a great solution in facilities where older networks and Industrial Ethernet networks work side-by-side. This portable, robust device gives direct insight into the health and possible faults in your industrial network.

Predictive maintenance

With periods of limited access to your plants, managing industrial networks has turned out to be a challenging and inefficient task. As most industrial organisations faced several disruptions due to the COVID pandemic, the adoption of predictive maintenance has rapidly increased in their digital strategy.

Remote monitoring is a key element of predictive maintenance. It utilises condition monitoring, advanced inspections, and data analytics, enabling users to predict and prevent network failure.

For PROFIBUS systems, ComBricks allows users to monitor their installations 24/7 from anywhere in the world remotely. It is a modular platform able to carry repeaters, PA and fibre optic modules. ComBricks is the only tool with an integrated oscilloscope for permanent PROFIBUS control over Ethernet.

Industrial Ethernet users can rely on the predictive capabilities of Atlas2. One of its main features is the dynamic interactive topology. This is a graphical and hierarchical overview of a complete network. Atlas will also provide valuable information about the quality of a network. Getting this information used to be very complicated, but the Q-Factor (Quality Factor) simplifies this using a weighted algorithm built up from all connected devices in the network.

Securing OT networks

The importance of IT security has been acknowledged by experts for years, whereas securing industrial control systems seems to have been overlooked. Whilst attacks on operational technology (OT) environments are becoming more frequent, companies are looking for ways to strengthen their industrial cybersecurity strategy and bridge the gap between OT and IT.

 Although the focus is often on external attacks (malware, phishing and hackers), internal threats can be just as damaging and more likely to occur. Whether it is a mistake due to inexperience with a task or protocol or to inflict damage, these threats can lead to costly downtime. Keeping track of modifications to physical assets is more important than ever. But if industrial network security doesn’t extend much beyond a firewall, a company or site’s devices are vulnerable. A firewall won’t protect a network from people who know how to go around it. Even if the network is air-gapped, it is impossible to safeguard it against authorised individuals who make an error.

Procentec’s Security License tackles the everyday threat posed by unintentional and bad actors. It permanently monitors any planned or unplanned changes to devices, giving the industrial network an extra layer of protection. Some of its key features include Quiet Hours and Maintenance Mode. Quiet hours will send an alert if there is any communication on the network when there shouldn’t be any (e.g. events, night-time, weekends, holidays etc.). Maintenance mode allows a company to make changes on the network without getting a security alert.

In addition to this, there are multiple inspections included to tackle the most often overlooked security vulnerabilities. The Port Scan, SNMP Write Access Scan, Device Password Scan and Communication Baseline Scan make sure all the entries to the network are secured.

Maintaining data integrity

Updating software in a decentralised OT environment can be a haphazard affair, but not knowing what has been installed can pose serious risks to a network. According to Honeywell’s latest USB Threat Report, the number of USB threats specifically targeting OT systems has almost doubled from 16% to 28% in 2020. The risks are much bigger than just spreading malware – a USB device can even be used to attack systems directly.

LockBox is designed to overcome the persistent problem of unverified and randomly downloaded software. This blockchain-based platform provides a centrally controlled catalogue of approved firmware, manual brochures, release notes and datasheets for individual network devices. The latest files can be shared safely with authorised users, stoping the distribution of files via email, shared folders or USB sticks.

The content & opinions in this article are the author’s and do not necessarily represent the views of ManufacturingTomorrow

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