Overcoming network obfuscation

Some simple design guidelines and a little planning ahead can result in more straightforward communication system architecture.

10/29/2012


Within the field of manufacturing automation, we face hurdles unique to the ways industrial control systems communicate. This often leads to piecemeal approaches to communication architecture development and installation. With a careful approach, legacy communication systems can be converted to higher performing systems, capable of providing connectivity without sacrificing security.

With the ever growing need for real-time data related to manufacturing, two of the largest concerns are accessibility and security. While these two requirements, at first glance, appear to be at odds with each other, cues can be taken from existing IT technologies which can lead to successful communication architectures.

Hurdles

In many cases (especially in discrete manufacturing) there will exist many independent networks, resident on individual machines or production lines. In a case where these independent networks are not configured to be compatible with each other, additional care will need to be taken and production downtime may be required to allow for reconfiguration of devices on the network.

With control systems, each device or control system will require proprietary software to implement the configuration changes required for the network. Knowledge and training on these individual pieces of software and hardware are required to ensure all communication configuration changes will not affect the performance of the devices on the networks.

It is important to evaluate the network you are joining to ensure the new components fit properly into the existing network architecture. Often times, the introduction of new or replacement control systems cannot be completed without integrating into these existing (sometimes legacy) systems. These systems range in complexity and performance from simple unmanaged switches and a handful of devices, to large distributed networks employing various network management protocols. It is not uncommon to find architectures that have evolved over time, employing components from various vendors and a host of layers.

In systems where no IT direction is provided by the manufacturing facility, connectivity to the production line can become obfuscated. While this obfuscation itself can provide security through difficulty of discovery, it often creates complexities in accessing the communication networks for systems and individuals requiring access. Overly complex systems can also create instabilities in connectivity, reducing the consistency of information flow to and from the production lines.

Solutions

Several security and communications companies are focusing more on the unique needs of industrial production. Several methodologies are being put forth, but ultimately it is up to the control systems engineers and IT staff to implement the right technologies for a given facility(s).

There are a few basic performance criteria that need to be considered to ensure the proper technologies are implemented.  These are not listed in order of importance.

• Throughput per segment
• Fault tolerance
• Accessibility
• User authorization/licensing
• Remote connectivity/routing
• Segmentation
• Diagnostic coverage
• Network protocol requirements
• Software patching
• Antivirus coverage
• Expandability
• Physical environment
• Power requirements, and
• On-site support requirements.

Through the application of appropriate network architecture features, a balanced approach to network architecture can be achieved. The proper planning of such systems can reduce downtime, improve control system performance, and reduce support costs for manufacturing facilities. 

Any opportunity to ease the learning curve of understanding a network architecture should be taken. Many vendors are now providing solutions which can integrate into domain structures, providing single-point management of user authorization, as well as many other security features of a network. Many tools are now available to provide visual representations and point-and-click management for network appliances.

Secure networks do not necessarily need to be complex networks. Try to avoid creating multiple access paths between networks and don’t construct tiers of networks where they are not necessary. Avoid appliances which do not integrate user management with a domain structure, as this typically leads to simplified security, leaving vulnerabilities to intrusion either accidental or malicious. Try to stay with a single family of appliances as this will shorten the learning curve for IT personnel.

In the end, there is no magic-bullet solution for architectural design of networks. Common sense plays a large role as well as familiarity with the components. Calculations will need to be made on the front end, with an eye to expandability and reliability. Communication networks are no longer simple structures with simple components. Robust communication solutions require careful planning, which will ultimately provide more simplified and higher performing results.

This post was written by Karl Schrader. Karl is a senior engineer at MAVERICK Technologies, a leading system integrator providing industrial automation, operational support and control systems engineering services in the manufacturing and process industries. MAVERICK delivers expertise and consulting in a wide variety of areas including industrial automation controls, distributed control systems, manufacturing execution systems, operational strategy, and business process optimization. The company provides a full range of automation and controls services – ranging from PID controller tuning and HMI programming to serving as a main automation contractor. Additionally MAVERICK offers industrial and technical staffing services, placing on-site automation, instrumentation and controls engineers.



The Top Plant program honors outstanding manufacturing facilities in North America. View the 2015 Top Plant.
The Product of the Year program recognizes products newly released in the manufacturing industries.
Each year, a panel of Control Engineering and Plant Engineering editors and industry expert judges select the System Integrator of the Year Award winners in three categories.
A new approach to the Skills Gap; Community colleges may hold the key for manufacturing; 2017 Engineering Leaders Under 40
Doubling down on digital manufacturing; Data driving predictive maintenance; Electric motors and generators; Rewarding operational improvement
2017 Lubrication Guide; Software tools; Microgrids and energy strategies; Use robots effectively
The cloud, mobility, and remote operations; SCADA and contextual mobility; Custom UPS empowering a secure pipeline
Infrastructure for natural gas expansion; Artificial lift methods; Disruptive technology and fugitive gas emissions
Mobility as the means to offshore innovation; Preventing another Deepwater Horizon; ROVs as subsea robots; SCADA and the radio spectrum
Power system design for high-performance buildings; mitigating arc flash hazards
Research team developing Tesla coil designs; Implementing wireless process sensing
Commissioning electrical systems; Designing emergency and standby generator systems; Paralleling switchgear generator systems

Annual Salary Survey

Before the calendar turned, 2016 already had the makings of a pivotal year for manufacturing, and for the world.

There were the big events for the year, including the United States as Partner Country at Hannover Messe in April and the 2016 International Manufacturing Technology Show in Chicago in September. There's also the matter of the U.S. presidential elections in November, which promise to shape policy in manufacturing for years to come.

But the year started with global economic turmoil, as a slowdown in Chinese manufacturing triggered a worldwide stock hiccup that sent values plummeting. The continued plunge in world oil prices has resulted in a slowdown in exploration and, by extension, the manufacture of exploration equipment.

Read more: 2015 Salary Survey

Maintenance and reliability tips and best practices from the maintenance and reliability coaches at Allied Reliability Group.
The One Voice for Manufacturing blog reports on federal public policy issues impacting the manufacturing sector. One Voice is a joint effort by the National Tooling and Machining...
The Society for Maintenance and Reliability Professionals an organization devoted...
Join this ongoing discussion of machine guarding topics, including solutions assessments, regulatory compliance, gap analysis...
IMS Research, recently acquired by IHS Inc., is a leading independent supplier of market research and consultancy to the global electronics industry.
Maintenance is not optional in manufacturing. It’s a profit center, driving productivity and uptime while reducing overall repair costs.
The Lachance on CMMS blog is about current maintenance topics. Blogger Paul Lachance is president and chief technology officer for Smartware Group.
The maintenance journey has been a long, slow trek for most manufacturers and has gone from preventive maintenance to predictive maintenance.
Featured articles highlight technologies that enable the Industrial Internet of Things, IIoT-related products and strategies to get data more easily to the user.
This digital report will explore several aspects of how IIoT will transform manufacturing in the coming years.
Maintenance Manager; California Oils Corp.
Associate, Electrical Engineering; Wood Harbinger
Control Systems Engineer; Robert Bosch Corp.
This course focuses on climate analysis, appropriateness of cooling system selection, and combining cooling systems.
This course will help identify and reveal electrical hazards and identify the solutions to implementing and maintaining a safe work environment.
This course explains how maintaining power and communication systems through emergency power-generation systems is critical.
click me