Cybersecurity and Data Access for Profitability Through Digitized Machine Tools

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April 28, 2021

The Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) makes it possible for manufacturers to measure and analyze the performance of their machine tools so they can boost their productivity and profitability. As the supply-chain disruptions of the global pandemic demonstrated, the ability to work remotely, understand machine behavior and use these two aspects of digitization to maintain throughput offers huge advantages for decision making and business continuity. But these advantages require data connectivity, which in turn demands cybersecurity to protect against loss, corruption or espionage. Machine tools require additional precautions specific to their unique networking needs as well as their immediate and long-term data use cases.

The benefits of IIoT – data sharing and analytics for productive decision making – have become well known, but full understanding of the cybersecurity needs of networked machine tools continues to lag behind. Cybersecurity relies on two key elements: connectivity and standardized data transport. Traditional approaches to data sharing via USB thumb drives can lead to accidental corruption from malware. Automation integrators who add cellular devices for installation monitoring can create inadvertent network vulnerabilities. Legacy devices that rely on outdated operating systems are easy targets for computer viruses. A ransomware infestation could require replacement of corrupted storage devices on machine controllers. In short, the more accessible the data, the greater the likelihood of risk.

Along with coming to terms with the real risks of lax cybersecurity, manufacturers also must understand the importance of setting up their IIoT installations to handle both current and potential future data-acquisition needs. When shops add IIoT and process monitoring, they may begin with an immediate interest in only one application – machine monitoring, file transfer or data sharing, to name three popular options – but almost inevitably, their needs will expand in the future. How they initially set up their digitalization and networking will determine how – or whether – their setup will grow and expand with them.

Shops that build the proper foundation for expandable IIoT functionality can add new use cases securely after the first one they implement. Conversely, shops that assume they can set up one network for their connected office equipment and another for their machine tools quickly find out that machine tools present exceptions to everyday IT practices. This task requires more than the simple isolation of office from factory; it also means isolating machines from each other on the factory floor. To achieve the benefits of data access and the imperatives effective cybersecurity, shops and their IT departments must rethink their approach.

One solution to the challenges of factory IIoT implementation comes from the technology that Mazak has developed to secure its own large-scale production facility. The Mazak SmartBox works with any machine, regardless of make, model or age, and assimilates all the elements required for cybersecure connectivity on the factory floor into one unit that can form part of a scalable MTConnect installation. The MTConnect standard was designed for factory-floor data exchange as a read-only system that screens out erroneous data and prevents parameter alterations that could cause machine crashes.

In conjunction with MTConnect, the Mazak SmartBox uses a Layer 3 Managed Switch to isolate each machine on its own VLAN and prevent outside intrusion. It’s the connectivity backbone of the Mazak iSMART Factory in Florence, Kentucky, and its functionality demonstrates our in-depth understanding of how to network machine tools for effective, secure data sharing.

Mazak is at the forefront of IIoT security and factory connectivity use cases, involved both with our customers and with the MTConnect Institute to accommodate these applications effectively. We have taken the lead to define how to access machine performance data, flow it into a data platform and maintain best practices for data security. And now, we’re happy to share all of that experience, show customers how to implement the IIoT effectively – and help them avoid the pitfalls of treating machine tools like other networkable hardware. Learn more about how Mazak SmartBox technology can deliver the turnkey cybersecurity solution your shop needs.

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