I admit, in an era of unprecedented technological advances, writing an article about a future-proof factory floor (…or any business environment) may seem disingenuous. After all, what is bleeding-edge today will be table stakes tomorrow.
But small businesses – and the growing manufacturers among them – should take the idea of future-proofing seriously. Because with the right mix of strategy, culture, and technology…it is possible.
From a technology perspective – future-proofing begins with the right network. For manufacturers, that translates to an industrial IT network that unifies, protects, and streamlines data.
The advantages an industrial IT network creates on the factory floor — improved product quality, machine utilization and a reduction in unplanned downtime, to start — breeds continued success for early adopters. And the bonus for small businesses? This advantage multiplies the longer it takes your competitors to adopt the same solutions.
But there’s more to a future-proof factory than the right network (although that’s a big part). Here are the four elements every growing manufacturer needs:
Must-have #1: Talent
Investing in your people and technology go hand-in-hand. Without the right technology, your people cannot produce their best work. Without the right skills and talent in your organization, even the best technology will go to waste.
A future-proof factory requires the right technology and the right talent to operate it. An investment in video conferencing technology, for example, not only makes it possible to introduce remote troubleshooting and video on the factory floor — it also provides a way to train employees and offer continuing education programs.
Must-have #2: Cybersecurity.
The introduction of an IT network to the plant floor has created new challenges for IT and manufacturing leaders. One of the most significant is cybersecurity, as factories continue to be one of the most attractive targets for malware and ransomware attacks. The reason? Ageing equipment with little (or no) cybersecurity built-in.
One-fifth of Canadian manufacturers admitted recently that they have not taken any steps to defend against cyber attacks. If a bank told you they haven’t invested in cybersecurity solutions, would you trust them with your data?
At a minimum, any plans to future-proof your factory must include essential security solutions that protect your network, users, and devices. The good news is that these are readily available as cloud-based products, which decrease the complexity and cost, making them more attainable for growing businesses like yours.
At Cisco, we have cybersecurity solutions that meet these needs: Umbrella, Advanced Malware Protection for Endpoints, and our FirePower line of next-generation firewalls. But do your research. Look into where you need to invest first to secure your manufacturing environment and pick the solution that is right for your needs.
Must-have #3: The right industrial network
Most factories have an industrial network. The problem is that many legacy industrial networks are flat, with no segmentation of traffic between controls, process devices, supervisory devices, and factory operations. If that’s a bit too inside baseball, then imagine your IT network as a house. Usually, a house has doors that separate rooms and some of those doors have locks to make it especially difficult to enter.
In a flat IT network, your house has no doors (or locks). Everything is open, and there are no barriers between machines. Consider the impact, then, when a hacker compromises one of your machines – essentially, they’ve been given access to your entire house with no way to limit the damage caused.
The other risk of a flat network is bandwidth. Factory managers run the risk of adding devices that can’t be supported, out-scaling the network and causing outages.
Must-have #4: Culture
Building a factory for the future requires leadership. Implementing the items above can require significant investments that should not be ignored. To be successful, you must fully commit to these changes and initiate a cultural shift for employees to follow. Data supports that manufacturers who make these changes see improvements in factory productivity, uptime, and machine health. Introducing these concepts to your team and having a conversation around factory vulnerability is a good way to gauge readiness for a future-proof factory.
The demand from customers for highly personalized, ready-made products will not decrease. The manufacturers that can deliver on these expectations will have the technology, people and culture to thrive in the digital era. I hope you are one of them.
Lissa Ricci is vice president of small business solutions for Cisco Canada. She is passionate about technology and how it can help growing businesses achieve their goals. See how our solutions can help your business at cisco.com/ca/smb.