In most manufacturing facilities, there is a point person everyone turns to for their shop floor network needs. When a new device needs to be plugged in, a change needs to be made, or a problem is encountered, they rely on their de facto architect and keeper of the Frankenstein Network. For the purposes of this article, let’s call him Tom.
Tom possesses a mental catalog of the devices included, what has been added over the years, and what not to do when it comes to the network. When a snafu occurs, he’s likely to know how to untangle it in the moment. Tom has overseen the growth of the network over the years and has supported business requirements as new devices and systems have been added. Tom’s a great guy, and everyone on the shop floor has come to rely on him over the years for issues related to their operational technology (OT).
Agilix Solutions works closely with Tom. He has a great deal of knowledge about the inner workings of the shop floor network. But Tom may be the first to tell you that while he has a handle on the operation of the network today, there really isn’t an overarching, top-down strategy for designing, managing, ensuring the security, integrating OT and IT, and scaling the industrial network into the future. And by the way, Tom is scheduled to retire in less than two years, taking all of his network knowledge away with him.
This is a scenario that we at Agilix Solutions see playing out in industrial manufacturing facilities each day. Many of these companies are looking to seek a more strategic approach, to have a deliberate design for their network for better management and scalability and bridge the gap between IT and OT to support the organization to reach its goals. They’re looking for a strategic industrial network design. These are the companies that will be the industry leaders of tomorrow.
The Journey to Strategic Industrial Network Design
It may seem like an overwhelming task, but the Agilix Solutions team employs an organized and systematic process to pick you up wherever you are in your journey. The most successful implementations involve the following steps:
STEP 1: Alignment across the organization
There is a common belief that the shop floor network is strictly an engineering and operations technology department function. You select the devices and programs that will keep your plant floor operations running.
Today, companies have recognized that both their operational and informational technology teams can play a critical role in reaching key business goals. It’s a top-down approach in which leadership establishes the objectives, assembles a team to develop the right strategies, and rallies the organization around the achievement of these objectives. In essence, it’s a big culture shift which aligns functions, such as OT and IT, which traditionally are held in separate silos. When leadership conveys the vision and successfully builds these alliances to leverage the valuable data that exists on the shop floor with the top floor, the results can be quite powerful.
STEP 2: Network Discovery
Does your network live up to the needs and expectations of your organization? Is it optimized to scale as demand for your products increases? Realizing the full capabilities of today’s modern manufacturing equipment depends on your network’s ability to gather, process, and analyze data increasingly quickly.
Agilix Solutions offers a Network Discovery service tailored to helping you identify the current state of your network to build a roadmap of the most important first steps and long-term needs that will be most impactful to address. This process is designed to identify the actual, real-time state of your shop floor network. Outputs include:
- A catalogue of all devices on your network
- An analysis of your industrial network traffic
- Any potential conflicts that may cause expensive disruption of operations
- Any existing segmentation
- Opportunities for enhanced efficiency
When you take a proactive approach to managing your IT/OT network, you’ll be positioned well to take advantage of new technology as it becomes available, ensuring you stay competitive in an ever-evolving market. By having this plan in place, you will rest easy knowing your network is secure, reliable, and prepared to meet the needs of your business. You’ll also be positioned to respond quickly when issues arise that demand immediate action.
STEP 3: The Security Posture Discovery
Do you know at any given time your network’s vulnerability to an outside attack? Best case scenario, a breach can cause a costly disruption in operations. Worst case? Complete disaster. That’s why it’s important to have the right network infrastructure, processes, and procedures in place to protect your company from the unexpected.
Our Security Posture Discovery is a tailored service designed to help you feel confident you have the documentation and remediation practices in place to protect your business from the unthinkable. Manufacturing companies are the targets of data breaches and other cyber crime every day. Our Security Posture Discovery service can help you keep your business operational and protected.
STEP 4: Strategic Industrial Network Design Plan
It’s typically not realistic to overhaul an entire shop floor network at once. That’s why the Agilix Solutions team creates a plan that will prioritize the various areas of your network and build them into manageable segments, until we’ve covered all the ground.
- Segmentation: As we examine the shop floor and all of the processes that make up the operations, we can begin to identify where walls must be constructed within the network. Segmentation is driven by processes, so a picture emerges that allows us to see which areas should be addressed first versus which are more long-term endeavors.
- Organization: Agilix Solutions follows a defined process for organizing the network, labeling the various connections and components so that it’s easy to identify which process, which line, or even which building each piece lives in.
- Deployment: One by one, and based on the plan we’ve developed, the migration of devices from the existing, flat network to a newly created and segmented environment will begin.
- Management: Because everything that exists on the network is organized and well documented, managing and troubleshooting the network becomes simplified and much more efficient. When there is a problem, it’s isolated to its appropriate segment, so you know exactly where to find it. In this environment, impact to other areas of the plant if something goes wrong (or if there is a security breach) is minimized. When a new device or connection needs to be added, there is a process in place to identify it and document the change.
The Impact of Strategic Industrial Network Design
Once we roll out the first segment, the effects are quickly felt. That portion of the shop floor network runs smoothly, like a well-tuned car on a freshly paved highway. You probably didn’t really notice the chugs in the engine or the ruts on the road that developed over time. But once they’re gone, it’s a completely different experience. It leaves you anxious to pave the next stretch so that you can continue your journey in a better place.
But that better place isn’t just for your comfort and convenience. That better place is what will facilitate the achievement of your company’s goals through efficiency and the harnessing of valuable data from the shop floor. This is where your industry’s leaders of tomorrow are operating, and you can too.
Agilix Solutions, in partnership with the networking pros in our Applied Technologies division, have the knowledge and expertise in both IT and OT design to create a solution that accounts for scalability, maintainability, reliability, and security. We’re ready to help you begin your journey. Get better insight into your shop floor network. Create a more efficient, organized and secure network environment. Be a leader in your space. For more information, please contact your Agilix Solutions Account Manager or contact us online.