Failure: whether it’s hardware or software or an application of the two, the thought of something bringing down production keeps every plant manager or production engineer up at night. How are your OT assets performing? Do you know how to fix an issue in real time? Do you know how to change out an asset? Can you get things back to running and keep them running?
From trying to anticipate and help prevent unplanned downtime events to reducing time to resolution when something does go wrong, the struggle with downtime can feel like a never-ending battle.
With the pace of rapid advancements and evolutions in technology and the impact of the skills gap, downtime is only becoming more expensive. In fact, the cost of unscheduled downtime in the global process industry alone could reach $20 billion a year by some estimates. Demands to do more with the same, or less, have skyrocketed, resulting in continuous operation. And downtime is the enemy of 24-7 manufacturing. As such, the modern manufacturer needs to be both proactive and reactive when it comes to addressing downtime incidents.
Preventing and reducing downtime in the short and long term also involves addressing the operational challenges that can contribute.
Three Big Operational Challenges
Many manufacturers understand the difficulties related to these challenges – and how interdependent they are. If you don’t have staff with the right skill sets, you won’t be able to manage IT/OT convergence or the implications of cybersecurity vulnerabilities to address security and downtime risk
- Skills gap: The industrial skills gap is vast, and often, difficult to bridge. As technology and job requirements evolve, fewer workers have the right skills to fill those roles. Manufacturers may not be capable of finding the right talent to help run day-to-day operations. Recognizing and filling skills gaps in your workforce is still key to meeting business outcomes, however. This is where third-party companies can help, either with training, remote support or supplemental services.
- IT/OT convergence: It’s one thing to understand where IT and OT merge on the plant floor; it’s another thing to have folks with expertise on both. Many manufacturers have talented IT and OT folks, but few have IT/OT specialists who have the right combination of skills and knowledge to handle the dynamics of the manufacturing environment. Having experts on your side who can merge OT application knowledge with IT technology can help you avoid failure and issues that can cause expensive downtime.
- Cybersecurity: Many manufacturers underestimate the security stance they need to take. Building security protections into everything you do should be a priority, from individual components to the entire footprint of your plant. If it’s connected, it needs to be protected. IT/OT convergence has helped to expose vulnerabilities in the OT environment, particularly when it comes to older technology and applications. OT patching, for example, is critical – but it is often overlooked by manufacturers that don’t understand how exposed they are.
Overcoming these challenges is complex and difficult, but it’s well worth the effort. As technology continues to evolve, it enables great advancements in smart manufacturing and operational productivity. For manufacturers, that also means competitiveness at a much higher level. Being adaptable to these challenges can not only help you keep up and “future-proof” your plant, but also potentially give you a competitive edge.
But what if you can’t find the right people with the right skills to help you address these pressing needs? What if you don’t get buy-in from upper management for additional head count or technology investment? More manufacturers are turning to third-party managed services to provide distributed competency and industry technology that is not immediately available on the plant floor.
Five Ways Remote Management Can Help
- Data center: Key to your dynamic manufacturing environment is the application infrastructure, largely defined by hardware such as data centers. It is a critical need to keep these assets operational, secure and adaptable for robust and continuous operations. This requires active monitoring and proactive administration of the data center by professionals who understand both the IT hardware and the implications of decisions made that will impact the performance of applications. A third-party company can provide remote and distributed subject matter experts to help you maintain these critical assets without the need for in-house resources.
- Application assets: Applications are diverse and complex, comprised of a wide range of automation hardware and software performing to meet increasing production demands. Throughout their lifecycle, applications continue to evolve with technology, spanning multiple hardware and software iterations, integrating the old with the new. Maintaining comprehensive application knowledge to effectively run day-to-day operations is essential to achieving desired business outcomes. Unlocking the potential of your application assets and maintaining application availability requires in-depth industry expertise and application knowledge complemented by proactive administration of maintenance changes. Tap into a third-party partner for remote domain expertise to support and maintain critical applications, as well as technology that can monitor critical tags and system parameters to minimize downtime risk and improve asset utilization.
- Threat detection: With the OT environment being converged with the enterprise network, the risk posed to the industrial control system has been highly publicized in recent large-scale incidents. Actively monitoring threat detection software to prioritize and provide context to alerts is a critical step in maintaining a secure environment. A third party who has expertise in the OT environment as well as an active understanding of the current threat landscape can help with quickly identifying threats in your environment, while filtering alerts to provide targeted response.
- Firewall appliances: Security should be embedded in everything you do in your facility, in both active and passive methodologies. One of the primary active security measures is the deployment and maintenance of firewall appliances that are a combination of hardware and software that provide a “digital moat” for your internal network environments. These appliances must be kept up to date and in continual operation to maintain a high-order security posture. A third-party provider can help monitor the appliance and provide remote administration to achieve optimized and continuous operation for a secure environment.
- Network environment: The network environment is the backbone of a modern manufacturing operation, providing the data transit capabilities to move information and commands throughout your automation footprint. Keeping these assets up and running is required to ensure the smooth and prompt execution of application activities. Look for a partner who can provide domain expertise as well as monitoring capability to maintain a high level of availability to minimize downtime resulting from last network connectivity.
Remote management is, for many manufacturers, the most cost-effective and productive solution to their skills gap, OT/IT convergence and security challenges. It may be worth exploring the value a trusted, experienced provider can bring to your network, infrastructure, assets and security environments. OT Managed Services offerings from Rockwell Automation provide the scalable services and support manufacturers need to be successful and competitive in this ever-changing industrial landscape.
This post was co-authored by Ante I. Tomicic, Product Manager, Rockwell Automation