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Welcome to the era of the industrial cloud

Manufacturers are embracing the next step in Industrial IoT maturity

The industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) is having a profound effect on how manufacturing organizations share information. The explosion in connected industrial equipment means that companies have to think about how they archive sensor-based information coming from these devices, how they securely move this sensor data from one location to another, and how they derive insights from this data so that manufacturing and supply chain operations can be optimized.

On top of this, we are seeing new technology such as digital twins and collaborative robots enter production operations. These new sources of digital information need to connect with a digital backbone to ensure that information gets to where it needs to go in a secure and efficient manner. The industrial cloud may hold some answers.

Industrial clouds in the automotive sector

Some manufacturers, notably in the automotive sector, have started to establish industrial clouds not just to collaborate with their respective supplier ecosystems, but also to provide a secure way to exchange design and manufacturing information between plant operations securely.

With the explosion in connected devices entering the manufacturing sector, having a secure IoT network is becoming increasingly important for these companies to fulfill their digital transformation strategies. In a recent survey by IDC, over 70% of respondents said that they were using cloud-based B2B networks today. So, it’s only a matter of time before industrial clouds go mainstream as well.

The mandate for security

The benefits realized from this latest industrial revolution are easily recognized, there are also challenges when it comes to governance and integration. Taking a ‘good enough to get the job done’ position toward IIoT is not a long-term strategy. Failing to secure IIoT devices and their data streams can expose critical operating technology to risk.

Industrial cloud enables point-to-point connectivity
Figure 1: Industrial clouds provide secure plant-to-plant connectivity

Security concerns remain a barrier to broad IoT adoption, especially in industrial organizations where 91% of manufacturers are investing in digital, but 35% say cyber vulnerabilities inhibit them from fully doing so. According to CSO online, “The IoT environment must be secure by design, secure by default, secure in use, secure in transmission and secure at rest.” There needs to be a solution that addresses each of these security areas while enabling the transparency and scalability needed to ensure trusted integration to enterprise applications.

Establishing an industrial cloud for plant-to-plant connectivity is one thing, but establishing a secure industrial cloud for plant-to-plant connectivity is another. For many years, the automotive industry has been using secure, point-to-point networks for exchanging sensitive design information across its supplier ecosystem.

Many OEM networks exist

There are many different regional networks connecting OEMs to their supply base. For example, in North America, the Automotive Network Exchange (ANX), the European Network Exchange (ENX), and the Japanese Network Exchange (JNX) all offer secure infrastructure which is proven and, more importantly, trusted. ANX, for example, relies on having a network router inside the firewall of an OEM. This router is then securely connected via a third-party vendor specializing in networking and integration to a router inside the firewall of a supplier.

What if you could connect IoT devices to this same router behind the firewall and then allow sensor information to flow securely between one point to another, potentially anywhere in the world?

This completely isolated network would also leverage an identity-centric IoT platform to ensure that devices connecting to the network are who they say they are; meaning, they have a digital identity and only personnel with the correctly assigned digital identities can access the information moving across this network.

This concept of a secure IoT network is going to underpin future IIoT strategies and more importantly provide a backbone for digital transformation initiatives moving forward. The secure IoT network provides a zero-trust framework to enable IoT device management, integration, and unified messaging and, more importantly, ensures the secure exchange of IoT sensor information between different industrial assets or plant facilities.

The industrial cloud is here

So the industrial cloud is now upon us – an environment that will allow manufacturing plants to be connected securely and sensor information from connected industrial assets to be accessed only by users with the correct permissions. Companies can begin to build an identity-centric digital ecosystem that will foster improved collaboration, build trust across a supplier community, and, most importantly, provide a distinct competitive advantage in the market.

This is an extract from a co-authored article from Tom Lesson and Bob Slevin in the Manufacturers Leadership Council journal. Read the full article here.


Tom Leeson

Tom is Industry Marketing Strategist for the Manufacturing Sector globally. An Engineer by Trade, and Mathematician by Education, Tom’s entire career has been spent in Engineering, Manufacturing and IT helping customers digitally transform their business and their manufacturing sector. With Industry 4.0 and the Industrial Internet of Things, Manufacturing lives in exciting times, so there is much to talk about.

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