Focus on avoidance, not on the risk itself

When riding my bicycle, wearing my bright yellow jersey, most drivers will make sure that they pass safely, but some will focus on my yellow jersey and slowly drift into my lane. These people are focusing on the risk, not focusing on the actions needed to avoid the risk. The advice to focus on the actions of avoidance and not the risk also applies to manufacturing and automation systems.


When riding my bicycle, wearing my bright yellow jersey, most drivers will make sure that they pass safely, but some will focus on my yellow jersey and slowly drift into my lane. These people are focusing on the risk, not focusing on the actions needed to avoid the risk.

The advice to focus on the actions of avoidance and not the risk also applies to manufacturing and automation systems. Multiple risks to manufacturing computer systems include: loss of electrical power, poor quality electricity, hardware failures, software failures, viruses, hackers, and environmental hazards (flood, fire, wind). While these risks can be real, remember that multiple risks can be addressed if you focus on actions needed to avoid the risk.

What to avoid

It may be impossible to enumerate all of the external threats to your manufacturing systems, but simple actions can be used to minimize the risks. For starters, only allow outside access through firewalls and tightly constrained proxy servers with a DMZ (demilitarized zone). A DMZ isolates critical systems from other corporate systems and Internet access. These actions do not mean you can avoid external risks, but they will reduce your expose to these risks.

Physical risk can be avoided through a well thought out and implemented backup protection plan. Electrical power risks can be avoided through use of UPS (uninterruptable power supply) systems and industrial grade surge protectors. UPS systems should be connected to server systems and workstations through USB ports to allow orderly shutdown and preservation of critical data. UPS system tests must be added to normal maintenance tests. UPS batteries last only a few years so they must be regularly tested and replaced. The worst UPS system to have is one that doesn’t work when needed.

Hardware failure risk can be reduced by focusing on hot, warm, or cold standby systems. The decision of which standby method to use should be based on the criticality of control and acceptable business downtime. Many production facilities lose hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of dollars for each day down. A small fraction of that amount spent on avoidance can reduce the risk. Hot standby systems are the most expensive, but they have switch-over times of milliseconds to seconds. Warm standby systems are typically implemented using ready-to-run copies of the primary systems and have switch-over times of minutes. Cold standby systems have the same hardware configuration as the primary but no software. When a primary system fails, the standby is loaded with a ghost image of the primary system. Usually one standby can cover multiple primary systems. Cold standby switch-over times are usually measured in hours.

Environmental hazards can be avoided by having an alternate backup site. The alternate site should be physically separated and isolated from the primary site. It should be in a separate building, on higher floors to avoid floods or lower floors to avoid wind, with separate power lines and network communications. Alternate sites should have the capacity to run for extended periods of time, even if at a reduced performance.

Software risks can be reduced by a philosophy of “test-first, test-always” for patches and updates. A common cause of software failure is from patches and updates that change undocumented features in application software. Cold standby systems are often used to test patches and updates, reducing the cost of software risk avoidance.

With these tips in mind, remember: It is important to be aware of the risks to manufacturing and automation systems, but it is more important to focus on the actions required to avoid the risks.


Author Information

Dennis Brandl is president of BR&L Consulting in Cary, NC, . His firm focuses on manufacturing IT. Contact Dennis at .

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 Engineering Leaders Under 40 program identifies and gives recognition to young engineers who...
The true cost of lubrication: Three keys to consider when evaluating oils; Plant Engineering Lubrication Guide; 11 ways to protect bearing assets; Is lubrication part of your KPIs?
Contract maintenance: 5 ways to keep things humming while keeping an eye on costs; Pneumatic systems; Energy monitoring; The sixth 'S' is safety
Transport your data: Supply chain information critical to operational excellence; High-voltage faults; Portable cooling; Safety automation isn't automatic
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.

Maintaining low data center PUE; Using eco mode in UPS systems; Commissioning electrical and power systems; Exploring dc power distribution alternatives
Synchronizing industrial Ethernet networks; Selecting protocol conversion gateways; Integrating HMIs with PLCs and PACs
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.

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.