Industry 4.0: Making the Most of Legacy Infrastructure Without Compromise

February 13, 2019 Joachim Sturmhoefel, SEH

Industry 4.0, with the IIoT at its heart, is set to become the biggest disruptor in manufacturing since the industrial revolution. According to IDC (International Data Corporation), global IoT spend will top $1.29 trillion in 2020, with manufacturing the single largest segment. And with such huge investments being made into everything from robotic assembly lines to environmental sensors designed to improve plant efficiency, it’s increasingly clear that those who don’t tap into its potential will soon be left behind. The question, though, is how to go about it.

The Two Roads to IIoT Evolution

Although there’s no shortage of new IIoT-enabled machinery that can be adopted by those willing to throw themselves wholeheartedly into Industry 4.0 and replace all their existing equipment, there’s another way to approach this evolution too.

Ripping and replacing equipment is an expensive move, not least because manufacturers have invested huge sums into their current infrastructure. Although access to the data insights generated by IIoT-enabled machinery have a number of benefits, this doesn’t necessarily outweigh the value of existing equipment in the near-term. 

A better solution, then, is to add a connected layer to that existing equipment. Through a combination of new hardware that’s designed to bring any non-network-ready industrial device into the modern network environment and sensors that can tap into the data available through these legacy devices, organizations can take advantage of the IIoT without the huge upfront costs. Not only will this see ROI realized on a much shorter timescale, it’ll also allow manufacturers to reap the benefits of the IIoT without compromising on security or risking business disruption.

Tackling Security Concerns

By avoiding the need to entirely rip and replace, manufacturers can mitigate the business disruption associated with installing new equipment, and also the teething problems involved in ensuring it works seamlessly. An IIoT layer can be added quickly and easily with minimal impact on the day-to-day running of the organization.

The remaining concern, then, for manufacturers looking to introduce an IIoT layer to their existing infrastructure is security. Suffering a network breach can be devastating for any business, and for those in manufacturing the impact can be much bigger. There’s a perception that legacy equipment would be insufficiently secure for this purpose, but that depends on how an IIoT layer is implemented.

Having computer systems bring internet connectivity to legacy equipment increases an organization’s attack surface and can create weak points to be exploited by hackers. However, another way to achieve the same end result is with an industrial device server, which can connect legacy equipment to the network while maintaining high data encryption standards and using purpose-built hardware that’s resistant to network threats. There’s no question that legacy infrastructure can be a security liability, but when approached in the right way it has the potential to offer greater peace of mind than its IIoT-enabled counterparts.

Although there are benefits to IIoT in the manufacturing industry, it is worth acknowledging 75 percent of IIoT pilots fail. This is why introducing an IIoT layer as the first step to industry 4.0 is so attractive. Its low cost and flexibility mean businesses can experiment with their IIoT configurations until they find a set up that is capable of delivering ROI and there are no compromises necessary. Manufacturers have the opportunity to bridge the gap between existing equipment and the connectivity demands of modern businesses without impacting business operations and security delivering the best of both worlds.

Joachim Sturmhoefel is the Managing Director at networking specialist SEH. He has spent over 30 years at the company, which has evolved to solve the challenges enterprises face when it comes to their networks, providing printing solutions, dongle and device servers, and Industry 4.0 equipment. 

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