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IIoT infrastructure and hardware requirements in smart factories

IIoT infrastructure and hardware requirements in smart factories
Ensuring the success of a cloud-based IIoT system in a smart factory requires the right network infrastructure and proper security measures.

It is estimated that there are currently over 1 billion connected IIoT devices being used in factories around the world. And although the IIoT market is growing exponentially, there are several barriers to even greater success. Deploying the right network infrastructure for cloud-based connected Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) solutions and securing that network are key to the market’s future growth.

From Fieldbus to Ethernet to wireless

Today’s factories overwhelmingly use the industrial ethernet and fieldbus protocols for connectivity to manufacturing equipment. Traditionally, the industrial sector used fieldbus — a group of industrial computer network protocols specifically designed for communication between industrial controllers and sensors — to connect to the industrial network; however, industrial ethernet is set to overtake fieldbus as the primary network medium in 2020, according to IHS Markit. 

Fieldbus technologies offer various advantages such as determinism and more physically robust connectors and components, but are not optimized to be linked up to a wider network setup or the internet, IHS Markit said. Their report added that the transition from fieldbus to industrial ethernet is key to future-proofing and benefiting from IIoT solutions. Industrial ethernet is not only faster than fieldbus, but also supports the IP addressability required for IIoT.

The growing adoption of industrial ethernet is also expected to further enable the transmission of larger volumes of data due to the greater bandwidth compared to fieldbus. IHS Markit believes this will ultimately bring in more technologies like the cloud, which will “supercharge” the IIoT business.

Wireless technologies could also help advance connectivity in factories, although uptake has been slow. Enrique Herrera, Industry Principal for Manufacturing at OSIsoft explained, “There is significant investment by the telecommunications companies to push 5G and private LTE technologies into factories, but adoption is still in its early days.” These telecommunication technologies, though, may be more readily accepted with remote or geographically dispersed assets.

Securing cloud and network infrastructure

Patrick Smits, Marketeer, Ixon
Faster connectivity is allowing manufacturers to utilize cloud-based solutions, but security still remains a concern. Ideally, IoT connectivity hardware should not be directly accessible via the internet. Software on these devices is often not updated regularly, which makes exposing them directly to the internet not a good idea. This is especially true nowadays with vulnerability scanners like available to everyone and anyone.

Making sure every factory router is completely secure is more important than ever. To do this, Ixon’s strategy is to block all incoming traffic on the router. “On boot Ixon’s IXrouter sets up a secure VPN connection to our cloud platform to make sure all communication to and from the platform is well secured. All other access options are disabled by default, so there are no ports from the company network or internet that can be abused by hackers to gain access,” said Patrick Smits, Marketeer at Ixon.

From a cloud perspective, cloud providers are able to secure both the cloud infrastructure and on-premise hardware with highly skilled employees that monitor and remedy security issues full time, protecting the complete infrastructure against all possible attacks. These types of end-to-end solutions can be very well secured, according to Smits, because the complete IIoT ecosystem, including hardware, connectivity and cloud infrastructure, is controlled by the cloud provider.

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