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.



No comments
The Top Plant program honors outstanding manufacturing facilities in North America. View the 2013 Top Plant.
The Product of the Year program recognizes products newly released in the manufacturing industries.
The Leaders Under 40 program features outstanding young people who are making a difference in manufacturing. View the 2013 Leaders here.
The new control room: It's got all the bells and whistles - and alarms, too; Remote maintenance; Specifying VFDs
2014 forecast issue: To serve and to manufacture - Veterans will bring skill and discipline to the plant floor if we can find a way to get them there.
2013 Top Plant: Lincoln Electric Company, Cleveland, Ohio
Case Study Database

Case Study Database

Get more exposure for your case study by uploading it to the Plant Engineering case study database, where end-users can identify relevant solutions and explore what the experts are doing to effectively implement a variety of technology and productivity related projects.

These case studies provide examples of how knowledgeable solution providers have used technology, processes and people to create effective and successful implementations in real-world situations. Case studies can be completed by filling out a simple online form where you can outline the project title, abstract, and full story in 1500 words or less; upload photos, videos and a logo.

Click here to visit the Case Study Database and upload your case study.

Why manufacturers need to see energy in a different light: Current approaches to energy management yield quick savings, but leave plant managers searching for ways of improving on those early gains.
Electric motor power measurement and analysis: Understand the basics to drive greater efficiency; Selecting the right control chart; Linear position sensors gain acceptance
Protecting standby generators for mission critical facilities; Selecting energy-efficient transformers; Integrating power monitoring systems; Mitigating harmonics in electrical systems

Annual Salary Survey

Participate in the 2013 Salary Survey

In a year when manufacturing continued to lead the economic rebound, it makes sense that plant manager bonuses rebounded. Plant Engineering’s annual Salary Survey shows both wages and bonuses rose in 2012 after a retreat the year before.

Average salary across all job titles for plant floor management rose 3.5% to $95,446, and bonus compensation jumped to $15,162, a 4.2% increase from the 2010 level and double the 2011 total, which showed a sharp drop in bonus.

2012 Salary Survey Analysis

2012 Salary Survey Results

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.