Secure remote access in manufacturing.

24/07/2018
Jonathan Wilkins, marketing director of obsolete industrial parts supplier EU Automation, discusses secure remote access and the challenges it presents.

Whether you’re working from home, picking up e-mails on the go or away on business, it’s usually possible to remotely access you company’s network. Though easy to implement in many enterprises, complexity and security present hefty barriers to many industrial businesses

Industry 4.0 provides an opportunity for manufacturers to obtain detailed insights on production. Based on data from connected devices, plant managers can spot inefficiencies, reduce costs and minimise downtime. To do this effectively, it is useful to be able to access data and information remotely. However, this can present challenges in keeping operations secure.

Secure remote access is defined as the ability of an organisation’s users to access its non-public computing resources from locations other than the organisation’s facilities. It offers many benefits such as enabling the monitoring of multiple plants without travel or even staffing being necessary. As well as monitoring, maintenance or troubleshooting is possible from afar. According to data collected from experienced support engineers, an estimated 60 to 70 per cent of machine problems require a simple fix, such a software upgrade or minor parameter changes – which can be done remotely.

Remote access reduces the cost and time needed for maintenance and troubleshooting and can reduce downtime. For example, by using predictive analytics, component failures can be predicted in advance and a replacement part ordered from a reliable supplier, such as EU Automation. This streamlines the process for the maintenance technician, flagging an error instantly, even if they are not on site.

The challenges of remote access
There are still significant challenges to remote access of industrial control systems, including security, connectivity and complexity. Traditional remote-access includes virtual private networking (VPN) and remote desktop connection (RDC). These technologies are complex, expensive and lack the flexibility and intelligence manufacturers require.

Additional complexity added by traditional technologies can increase security vulnerabilities. Industrial control systems were not typically designed to be connected, and using a VPN connects the system to the IT network, increasing the attack surface. It also means if a hacker can access one point of the system, it can access it all. This was the case in attacks on the Ukrainian power grid and the US chain, Target.

To overcome these issues, manufacturers require a secure, flexible and scalable approach to managing machines remotely. One option that can achieve this is cloud-based access, which uses a remote gateway, a cloud server and a client software to flexibly access equipment from a remote location. In this way, legacy equipment can be connected to the cloud, so that it can be managed and analysed in real-time.

Most manufacturers find that the benefits of remote access can offer outweigh the investment and operational risks. To counteract them, businesses should put together a security approach to mitigate the additional risks remote access introduces. This often involves incorporating layers of security so that if one section is breached, the entire control system is not vulnerable.

When implementing remote access into an industrial control system, manufacturers must weigh up all available options. It’s crucial to ensure your system is as secure as possible to keep systems safe when accessed remotely, whether the user is working from home, on the go, or away on business.

@euautomation #PAuto #Industrie4

How cloud computing is changing industrial automation.

15/01/2016

Jonathan Wilkins, marketing director of industrial automation supplier European Automation examines how cloud computing is disrupting industrial automation. 

Traditionally, the manufacturing industry has been slow to embrace new technological platforms, but in recent years the introduction and success of cloud computing has meant this technology is becoming vital for manufacturers. 

Adopting_the_cloud

Adopting the cloud!

One of the most notable changes in industry over the last years has come from advancements in remote connectivity. Traditionally, the location of manufacturing facilities was determined by ready access to water, fossil fuels or electricity grids. Today, the cloud allows manufacturers to connect and manage factory operations regardless of their location.

For demanding environments, such as the offshore oil and gas sector, this remote access is particularly valuable. The industry handles large amounts of data, usually sourced from multiple teams in remote locations. Cloud computing enables the communication of complex data between these locations and back to head office to be analysed.

What’s more, as opposed to simply managing their own operations, cloud computing allows manufacturers to manage their partners too. By working closely together and sharing business data with third party suppliers, logistics partners and other associates or manufacturers can form what is known as a ‘community cloud’. This advanced form of cloud computing allows businesses to gain insight to their entire supply chain and creates a secure platform for business partners coordinate their activities, from prototype right through to the finalised product.

Inevitably, with increased access and connectivity comes a higher security risk for manufacturers. These cyber security risks are not necessarily the work of malicious hackers, but can often be simple mistakes made by employees, such as connecting via unsecure networks, exposing the system to viruses or accidental breaches.

Despite these risks, manufacturers have few alternatives that can compete with cloud computing. Without the help of the technology, manufacturers would have to maintain expensive computing hardware and continually add more storage space to archive the ever-growing data from the factory floor.

For many manufacturers, opting for the cloud is a no-brainer. Cloud computing is capable of performing large-scale, complex computing operations for the largest of manufacturers. Even in the unfortunate event that you run out of computing resources on the cloud – a phenomenon known as ‘cloud bursting’ – manufacturers are able to spill the excess workload to an external cloud on an on-demand basis, making cloud computing a much safer and more secure alternative to in-house storage.

Despite these obvious advantages, cloud computing goes far beyond simple data storage. Many industry experts think the Internet of Things (IoT) is the next step towards the fourth industrial revolution or Industry 4.0. IoT simply refers to online connectivity between different industrial devices, meaning that networks of machines within a factory setting can communicate and coordinate with little human intervention. 

But how can IoT possibly thrive without ways to analyse and store the data generated? This is where cloud computing comes in. As manufacturers are forced to embrace new technology such as smart sensors, IoT and 3D printing, the cloud works to support these major industry shifts.


Energy efficient obsolete technology has a new name.

15/11/2015

You may already be familiar with the phrase ‘Eco Obsolete Technology’ (EOT), but you may not be aware of what it refers to or how it came about. The phrase was created by obsolete automation components supplier, European Automation as a way of referring to obsolete technology that is energy efficient and therefore compliant with the latest energy efficiency standards.

EPA272The lion’s share of European Automation’s sales comes from obsolete industrial automation parts that can be several decades old. In recent years, European Automation’s sales team noticed an increase in the energy efficiency requirements of its clients, as a result of tightening energy regulations for industry. The concept of Eco Obsolete Technology was born out of the need to make conversations with clients easier.

“With international standards such as ISO 50001 and programmes like the Ecodesign Directive and the Energy Savings Opportunity Scheme, being energy efficient is as important as being cost efficient to many plant managers,” explains Jonathan Wilkins, marketing director of European Automation. “Implementing Eco Obsolete Technology fulfils both objectives, reducing your carbon footprint whilst avoiding a costly system upgrade.

“Over specification is a historic issue in the world of industrial automation, especially when it comes to motors. It is not until the equipment is tested by a lead assessor that energy efficiency questions start being asked.”

“Many business owners think that cutting their carbon footprint will prove costly. In fact, by implementing Eco Obsolete Technology in your facility, you can significantly improve your efficiency for a considerably smaller cost,” explains Jeremy Lefroy, current MP for Stafford constituency. “Across the UK, many manufacturers are already using Eco Obsolete Technology without knowing it. By giving this type of technology a name, European Automation is reaching out to the industry as a whole and encouraging the conversation on energy efficiency.”


European Automation can provide almost any spare EOT part to be retrofitted into a system. With a vast network of authorised suppliers, European Automation sources and delivers energy efficient obsolete parts anywhere in the world in record time. European Automation also publishes online magazine, AUTOMATED, which focuses on industry specific content such as special reports and useful guides. The magazine is published in print every three months.

@EUAuto #EOT #Environment #PAuto


How long can this go on?

19/10/2015
Breaking Moore’s Law – Can technology maintain its current pace of growth?

With its depth of only 6.7mm, the iPhone 6 holds more processing power than was used by NASA at the time of the 1969 moon landing and over four times that of the Mars Curiosity Rover. Here, Jonathan Wilkins, marketing director of European Automation, analyses the rate of technological progress and discusses the validity of Moore’s Law.

EPA250In 1965, Gordon Moore, founder of Intel, predicted that throughout the future of technological hardware, the number of transistors per square inch of integrated circuits will double approximately every two years. This observation came to be known as Moore’s Law.

At the time, the industry as a whole was still in its infancy. In fact, Intel itself would not be founded for a further three years. Defying expectations, Moore’s prediction was correct and continued to hold true for over half a century. In fact, Moore’s Law became so well known that it turned into an industry objective for competing companies.

The increase of the number of transistors on integrated circuits was made possible by shrinking the size of the transistor. Simply translated, Moore’s Law is one of the reasons why each generation of iPhone is thinner, yet more powerful than the previous.

But Moore’s Law is beginning to lose its momentum. Recently, Intel announced that for 2016, it will continue to use the current 14 nanometre processes – as opposed to the smaller ten nanometre chips we were all expecting. Only a few days after Intel’s announcement, Apple partner TSMC estimated it will be mass producing ten nanomentre chips by early 2017. Clearly, tech companies are struggling to keep up with Moore’s Law.

Although they are not ready for official release, the ten nanometre size chips can be successfully manufactured by using pure silicon. However, shrinking manufacturing beyond this will require the use of different materials, which means that sooner or later, Moore’s law will become obsolete.

Unfortunately for Intel, IBM recently announced a breakthrough seven nanometre processor. This incredibly thin chip was made possible by using a silicon-germanium alloy (SiGe). This new material improves electron mobility and enables faster switching transistors with lower power requirements. Although functional, IBM’s seven nanometre SiGe chips will not ready for mass production until 2017. 

The era of Moore’s Law may be coming to a natural end, but technologists argue that the concept is simply changing form. Soon, a new generation of quantum processors could be developed, built on the principals of quantum physics. By using new technology and new materials future processors could break the expectations set by Moore’s Law.

• Moore’s Law as covered by WIKIPedia.

gordon-moore-speak


Man or machine? Is HAL taking over?

04/08/2015
As we enter the golden age of robotics, the fear that robots will take human jobs has slowly spread. Jobs such as assembly, farming and surgery are already being delegated to robots. Here, Darren Halford of European Automation considers if our jobs are really at risk.

epa245This speed of technological change has led Google’s director of engineering, Ray Kurzwell, to estimate that robots will, “reach human levels of intelligence by 2029”.

For many, the idea of artificial intelligence surpassing human intellect is a daunting thought. Whilst certainly not the first example of evil artificial intelligence in pop culture, HAL the homicidal computer from 2001: A Space Odyssey is a prime example of the recurring ‘robot uprising’ theme we see depicted in film and literature.

However, even in the far-flung worlds of science fiction, robots have proven to be predominately helpful – just as they have in manufacturing. From traditional six-axis, SCARA and Cartesian robots to Automated Guided Vehicles (AGVs) robots generally create jobs; increasing the overall number of positions available.

One of the automation trends for 2015, AGVs are mobile robots that navigate independently using magnets, lasers, vision and geoguidence and are used commonly in industrial settings to transport materials and goods in a factory or warehouse. AGVs can increase efficiency, ultimately reducing costs and, because of this, their market is growing at a rapid pace.

Unlike automated guided vehicles, more complex, manufacturing robots are usually confined to operating inside cages known as robotic work cells. These physical barriers protect human workers from potential accidents and the sheer power and speed of malfunctioning robotics. If you’ve ever seen a robot at a trade show try to return to zero without back up in the event of power cut, you will know exactly what I mean.

Despite this restriction, advances in programming mean that some robots can now operate, without enclosures, alongside humans on the factory floor. This integration revolutionises the job roles of both robot and human workers. This increases the productivity of menial tasks and frees human workers to focus on jobs that are more sophisticated.

Although still in its early stages, this man-machine collaboration is a huge step towards humans and robots working harmoniously together.

Robot trends
Cell free robotics was a theme at this year’s Hannover Messe, which also featured ABB’s wonderfully cool YuMi, a two-armed collaborative assembly assistant that can see and feel its way around an application. It has soft, padded arms that allow it to interact safely with its human counterparts.

There is no denying that some very menial labour will be replaced with technology. In fact, Deloitte and the University of Oxford predict that robots could ultimately replace ten million unskilled workers.

However, throughout history, technology has created thousands of new jobs while eliminating old ones. Consider the first half of the twentieth century, where a large percentage of working Londoners were limited to work in manufacturing and heavy industry.

Whilst some might argue that IT and communications led to a decline in heavy industry, others would say it freed workers to ‘break the habit’ and pursue a wide range of vocations outside of the factory. This, in turn, established London as the cosmopolitan metropolis and services hub that it is today.

The first robots might have been installed in factories in the 1960s, but we are only now truly entering the golden age of robotics. It will open doors to new industries and generate new roles requiring creativity, judgment, empathy and a thirst for innovation – human skills which robots can’t yet replicate. So it’s not time to worry about HAL and his compatriots just yet; your job is safe.


Viva España! A look at manufacturing in Spain!

19/09/2014

The Spanish saying “a grandes males, grandes remedios” is the equivalent of “desperate times call for desperate measures.” Even as the recession was taking a heavy toll on the fourth largest economy in the Eurozone, the Spaniards remained optimistic. And it seems their hard work and energy is finally starting to pay off, because Spanish manufacturing has significantly picked up in recent months.

An_SpainnEuropean Automation provides industrial automation spare parts to many Spanish companies from across industry sectors. In recent years, they have seen a dip in demand from the area, but the good news is that since the middle of last year, the number of orders from Spain has been on the rise. Regions like Catalonia and the Basque Country and industries like automotive and metal processing, have taken the lead in this slow, but steady recovery process.

Let’s talk economics
The fact that Spain’s gross domestic product (GDP) fell by 1.2 per cent in 2013 is not particularly encouraging. However, this year’s predictions show a rise of one per cent. While it’s hardly an impressive figure, it is good news, especially in the context of falling labour costs and increased private investment in capital equipment across industries.

Historically, Spain is one of Europe’s largest manufacturers. It is still the second largest auto manufacturer in Europe, a leader in the production of canned goods and fourth in the production and exports of machinery and tools.

In February 2014, manufacturing production in Spain increased by 4.3 per cent compared to February 2013. In March 2014, the good news flow continued, as manufacturing activity in the country of the great Miguel de Cervantes expanded at its fastest pace since April 2010.

According to the Markit research group, the purchasing managers’ index (PMI) of Spain has grown again in March, from 52.5 in February, to 52.8. Any score above 50 on the PMI index suggests that the industry is expanding, which is excellent news, because it reflects a slow, but stable strengthening of business conditions.

Industry heroes
Although the Spanish market is extremely varied and – some might say – painfully fragmented, certain regions and sectors are showing obvious signs of recovery. Madrid, Catalonia and the Basque Country in particular, have had excellent trajectories.

Catalonia is the most important region in the Spanish economy, providing around 20 per cent of the country’s GDP. Its most prolific sectors are life sciences, with biotechnology and research and development projects leading the industry, alongside the automotive, chemical and food and beverage industries. International trade shows like the Mobile World Congress, the Smart City World Congress and the third largest food show in Europe – Alimentaria – attract powerful investors to the region, confirming it as a vibrant hub for manufacturing and innovation.

Much like Catalonia, the Basque Country is a very different entity from the rest of Spain, both culturally and economically. The number of technical clusters in an area the size of Scotland is truly impressive, with the main priorities being renewable energy, advanced engineering, life sciences and ICT.

Strong Spanish growth estimates are just one of the many indicators that the struggling Eurozone state is finally stepping away from the recession. However, it’s not quite time to “para baillar la bamba,” just yet. Now is the moment for strategic investments and innovative solutions – a time to seize growth opportunities and leave the recession behind.


Derailing the hype train!

01/09/2014
Industrial automation spares supplier, European Automation has written this blog post about the dizzying journey that groundbreaking innovations take through the Gartner Hype Cycle. The company use the current industry hot topic, 3D printing, as a case study in portraying the different stages of the cycle and what we can expect in the future.

New technologies are brilliant but, for better or worse, all of them are susceptible to the twisting, labyrinthine, eldritch machine known as the Hype Train. It’s also called the Gartner Hype Cycle, if you want to be clever about it.

EPA120Looking back at past technologies, it’s clear that new, groundbreaking innovations are destined to follow the trajectory laid out by the Hype Cycle without fail. The cycle runs technology trigger, peak of inflated expectations, trough of disillusionment, slope of enlightenment and finally the plateau of productivity. Believe it or not these are well thought out and accurate analytical tools; not names of places in Game of Thrones.

But this is our fault; humans love to get excited about things and think ahead to something better. Unfortunately, after the heady heights of the peak of expectations inevitably comes the trough of disillusionment.

The Trough is often the key point of the cycle, the part responsible for the product’s success or failure. This is the time after the product has been hyped beyond its ability to deliver and the public realises it can’t make good on the claims made about it, at least not right away. Whether it makes it out of the Trough and onto the plateau depends entirely on people’s behavior after the hype has moved on.

In the past we’ve seen technologies move along various stages of the cycle, eventually catching up with their potential some years down the line. The Internet has been riding high on the Plateau of Productivity for years now, with some of the things it has produced outstripping what was claimed in the heights of its own Peak of Expectations. Whether or not you count the ridiculous number of cat pictures as one of the better things to come out of the Plateau is up to you.

Technologies such as 3D Printing are just starting to fall into the Trough. The claims made, like being able to bio-print entire human organs for transplant, may well be possible, and even likely in the next decade. However, it is important to remember that we aren’t all going to simply pop down to the chemist for a new liver any time soon. Not to sound too cynical, but what is being promised seems too good to be true, and that’s a sign that it’s cresting the Peak and heading into the Trough.

European Automation is firmly invested in the realism of the Plateau of Productivity, despite being as excited as the next industrial technology expert by the technology trigger. While we are interested in the what-ifs and predictions the majority of our work is focused on delivering real-life, usable, functional technology.

“We are committed to providing the most up-to-date solutions for cutting edge use, such as sensors and industrial PCs and PLCs used in Internet of Things applications for instance. But we are equally at home sourcing an obsolete inverter manufactured in the early nineties for a straightforward replacement.

While it’s great fun to look ahead and see what may be possible ten or 20 years down the line, it is important to stay grounded as well; so we can deliver the best possible service now while keeping an eye on the future to ensure we stay ahead. We are happy to de-rail the hype train when needed. “