The introduction of automated systems within industrial facilities and operations spearheaded the increase in productivity and accuracy manufacturers currently benefit from. For example, the manual installation of pistons in automobiles witnessed a reduced error rate from 1.5% to approximately 0.00001% when automation was applied. Although the different types of industrial automation systems have reduced error rates, challenges such as data loss, security, and maintenance still exist. This is where industrial cloud computing technology comes in.
This article will discuss:
- The different types of industrial automation systems and the challenges they face
- How industrial cloud computing technology helps mitigate these challenges
- The future role of cloud computing technology in enhancing industrial automation systems
The rising industrial automation systems challenges
The focus on reducing shop floor accidents and increasing efficiency were some of the important driving forces behind industrial automation. Thus, the use of control systems such as robots, automated conveyor systems, and autonomous equipment has been hailed as a harbinger to Industrie 4.0.
Today, different types of industrial automation systems exist. These different systems produce data and include fixed automation, programmable automation, and integrated automation systems. And if the goal of industrial automation is increased efficiency, then the capture and analytics of the data these systems produce are important for receiving business insight and actionable intelligence. The integration of cloud computing technology provides a single source of truth where data produced during industrial automation can be manipulated.
Besides the need to manipulate industrial automation system data, other challenges with industrial automation systems exist. Traditionally, industrial automation and control systems still rely on legacy security and communication policies to deal with perceived threats and this has worked for some time. But with the introduction of IP-based communications in industrial settings, the risks and vulnerabilities of relying on outdated security tools are increased. This increase is in part due to the use of automated cyberattacks that seek vulnerabilities in IP-based communications wherever they can be found.
A 2016 attack on a regional electricity distribution company’s industrial control systems in Ukraine, which left 225,000 customers in the dark, is one example. Employee negligence has also been highlighted as an example of the risks industrial automation systems face as the Mariposa botnet incident of 2009 showed. In this case, the use of an infected USB device hijacked a plant’s industrial automation system and the system recovery process took three weeks to accomplish.
The effects of unplanned downtime on industrial automation systems are also important challenges for enterprises. It is estimated that unplanned downtime costs now average (across all businesses) approximately $260,000 per hour and this also affects manufacturers using industrial automation systems. With these challenges in mind, a detailed analysis of cloud computing technologies’ role in industrial automation must show how it mitigates them. It must also take into consideration the inclusion of more industrial internet of things (IIoT) devices in industrial automation systems and the role of cloud computing in simplifying the integration process. And this is what the next section will try to analyze.
The role of cloud computing technology
The centralized nature of cloud computing solutions provides an excellent sounding board for dealing with the many challenges industrial automation systems face. The role of cloud computing in industrial automation systems includes the following:
- Enhancing data analytics – Industrial automation systems are driven by data and the manipulation of data. For instance, the scheduling operations that determine the part of the system that functions at exact timelines are calculated using historical data produced from the initial system. With cloud computing technologies, scheduling calculations are performed in real-time and with enough computing resources to cater for large data sets. Thus, no matter how large and complex the data an automated system produces, cloud computing technologies scale up their computing resources to handle the required analysis.
- Enhancing cybersecurity measures – Industrial cybersecurity is a journey because of the ever-changing landscape of what makes up an industrial automation system. The increasing use of IIoT devices, edge hardware, and diverse communication protocols produce diverse vulnerability points that attacks can exploit. In this situation, industrial cloud computing technology provides a centralized environment where the most sensitive data sets can be stored. This means IIoT devices, smart technologies, and edge hardware have to rely on the industrial cloud to be their final protection against cyberattacks.
Cybersecurity is one area where cloud computing technology vendors excel. This is because of the constant security updates that occur in industrial cloud ecosystems and the option of integrating third-party security information and enterprise management (SIEM) tools to enhance security. The data backup that cloud computing provides also simplifies recovery procedures when data loss occurs due to successful breaches or employee negligence.
- Enhancing workload consolidation – Here again, the centralized nature of the industrial cloud plays an important role in effective industrial automation. In this scenario, cloud computing technology provides an excellent environment for combining the multiple industrial automation systems within a facility into one scalable and secure platform. This leads to a reduction in the many IT infrastructures and networks that handle industrial operations. The benefits here include having a single source of truth for all industrial automation systems and reduced maintenance and management costs. Cloud computing technology also provides a more streamlined or straightforward process for integrating legacy equipment into automated systems
- Defining the future of industrial automation systems – The future of industrial automation is being driven by emerging technologies such as the edge, IIoT, AI, and ML. To successfully integrate these solutions into existing industrial automation systems, simulating their effects is required before implementation. Cloud computing technologies alongside the digital twin provide an intuitive environment for testing, analytics, and simulations before undertaking the redesign of legacy industrial automation systems.
With approximately half of the industrial automation systems worldwide facing cyberattacks and the increasing integration of IIoT devices in shop floors, the role of the industrial cloud cannot be overstated. This is why industrial stakeholders intend to increase their adoption of cloud computing technology by 45% from 2020 - 2021. With proper implementation, the industrial cloud will help reduce the challenges industrial automation systems currently face and provide the perfect platform for adopting Industrie 4.0 automation models.