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Three Important Tips to Get You Ready for Future Industrial Network Communication

Aug 19, 2022
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To achieve operational resilience, more and more businesses are focusing on transitioning to digitalized operations. As countless sensors and machines are being introduced, we are witnessing industrial networks evolving to sustain that growing number of connected devices and digital applications. However, as this is mostly unfamiliar territory, industrial organizations must overcome several hurdles before they can actualize the value that next-generation industrial networks offer. In this article, we want to share three essential tips to help you tackle these challenges.

Tip 1: Make network reliability a top priority

Uninterruptible operations are an important component of industrial activity. Without a doubt, reliability is a fundamental criterion for sustainable operations. However, when OT networks move to a more open architecture, more devices will be connected and communicating with each other over the same network, increasing system complexity exponentially. Any delay or data loss can lead to costly system downtime. The impact of unstable or broken connections on business is now larger than ever. Therefore, building robust network reliability should be a primary goal.

CUSTOMER CASE: Smart Substation

When building smart substations, the continuous controlling and coordinating function of substations is vitally important for the stability of the overall power system. Industrial networks play a crucial role to ensure the efficiency and flexibility of the communication between these systems. Our customer, Provincial Electricity Authority (PEA), is an electricity expert looking to build reliable industrial networks to sustain critical network communication for their smart substations.

“In implementing and maintaining a digital substation communication system, we need an expert we know we can trust.”                     - Pongsakorn Yuthagovit, Assistant governor of PEA

To ensure a smooth transition to smart power infrastructure, deploying rugged network devices is necessary to ensure maximum uptime in very demanding operating environments, including extreme temperatures and high electromagnetic interference. We also recommend integrating robust redundancy mechanisms as an insurance policy to avoid interruptions and minimize recovery times, since any packet loss might affect the performance and stability of the substation systems. Having an effective redundancy network in place can enable substations to operate automatically and achieve real-time communication. This makes it possible, for example, for one substation to take over if another one is disabled due to external factors such as severe weather. The resulting network dependability helps ensure reliable communication with zero packet loss and instant network recovery times.

Tip 2:  Prioritize secure networking solutions purpose-built for OT

In recent years, cybersecurity attacks in the OT field have soared. Considering most production information of critical applications is confidential and often relevant to public welfare and safety, OT engineers are under pressure to keep their systems intelligent and secure at the same time. However, simply deploying IT cybersecurity technologies in industrial applications is not ideal. One of the most common pieces of feedback from OT engineers is that IT cybersecurity mechanisms can hinder the efficiency of industrial communication. For instance, an IT secure remote connection service may not be able to connect to a PLC in an OT environment and set up different access control rules to enhance security. Therefore, combining purpose-built OT networks and cybersecurity measures is essential for minimizing any potential threat and maintaining continuous operations.

CUSTOMER CASE: Secure Remote Access

YNY technology – a process control solutions provider – remotely assisted an edible oil refinery customer abroad. The convenience and efficiency of remote service offered YNY a great opportunity to provide better customer support during the COVID-19 pandemic, especially for its overseas clients. The plant owner required a reliable control system to manage the entire process to ensure consistent quality and maximized production. However, YNY had to reassure the customer that the remote connections were safe and protected against security breaches when providing remote services.

“Edible oil refinery customers are extremely cautious about cybersecurity since the details of their production process is the company’s own secret recipe.”                                                                                                                                                                         - Jeffery Wong, Senior business unit manager of YNY Technology

Cyberthreats are always the top concern when considering remote connections in industrial applications. To protect critical data, we strongly recommend implementing end-to-end encryption to secure incoming and outgoing data streams during a remote access session and prevent data leaks. Furthermore, to protect the system from unauthorized access, on-demand access control mechanisms can help determine whether remote connection requests should be allowed or rejected. For example, with account-based access control, users can specify which clients can access which machine, making sure only authorized personnel can connect to critical assets such as PLCs. Lastly, it’s also recommended to choose secure networking tools purpose-built for OT that allow technical staff with limited IT knowledge to easily set up remote access. Straightforward and user-friendly tools suitable for OT engineers can reduce cost and provide better system-side protection.

Tip 3: Choose management solutions that offer full network and security visibility

When the number of connected devices increases from a few dozen to several hundred or more, it becomes increasingly harder to manually manage such complex networks with minimum downtime. A single point of failure could significantly affect the entire OT infrastructure and even IT networking systems. Therefore, ensuring maximum uptime to keep business running smoothly and enjoy the benefits of digital transformation is a critical but daunting task. To manage these interconnected, and sometimes distributed, network devices efficiently, having clear network visualization from a central location is essential to efficiently configure devices and maintain systems on a large scale. It allows you to quickly respond to issues and maximize network uptime.

CUSTOMER CASE: Intelligent Transportation Systems

The City of Lancaster in northern Los Angeles County wanted to implement an advanced traffic management system (ATMS) solution. In addition to building a reliable network infrastructure, network maintenance on the distributed traffic systems was very challenging for the city government’s traffic technicians. If one of these devices malfunctioned, engineers had to go over to the repair site and check roadside cabinets one by one. Engineers would be on-site during the day or at night, sometimes during heavy rain or in scorching temperatures. 

“We frequently needed to dispatch technicians to check on equipment when the communications go down, sometimes in the middle of the night, taking up a lot of time and resources.”                                                                                                                    - Mitch Megas, Traffic Engineering Technician for the City of Lancaster

Network and security management is complicated. It’s important to have a holistic view of your network infrastructure to quickly respond to issues, maximize network uptime, and ensure all networking devices are protected. We highly recommend choosing intuitive industrial network and security management software to configure, monitor, and diagnose the network remotely at any time. Especially for distributed networks that span large physical areas, having the ability to remotely manage devices from a central location can save a lot of resources and time. This way, technicians can more easily manage the network and keep track of the security status, allowing them to react immediately as soon as something is malfunctioning.

Overcome OT Networking Hurdles With Moxa and Transition to a Digital Future

As an industrial networking expert, Moxa is committed to delivering futureproof network solutions that help seamlessly merge IT and OT systems and build sustainable, smooth network operations. By actively working with our customers, we build our industrial network solutions to help overcome the challenges of today and tomorrow.

For more information, download our guidebook to discover the secret to successfully building futureproof industrial networks.

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