How to improve plant floor cyber preparedness and prevent unplanned or unscheduled downtime

Courtesy of Brett Sayles

In the manufacturing industry, plant floors are the lifeblood of a business. Top-tier performance is crucial to business success. Unscheduled and unplanned downtime on the plant floor can have significant consequences for manufacturing organizations. A wide range of events can cause disruptions, including mechanical machine failures, wear and tear, quality issues, Mother Nature, technology failures, human error and more. Interruption to plant floor operations can be minor, catastrophic or somewhere in between, but any interruption can be costly in both time and money. That’s why reducing unplanned and unscheduled downtime by using best practices must be a high priority for businesses.

Digital safety complacency on the plant floor can have a considerable impact on a business over time. Even the slightest interruptions can compound into losses in productivity and profitability. Whether the interruption is caused by machine malfunction or human error, each disruption has an impact. While it may seem like a minor inconvenience at the time, regular interruptions can directly lead to more extended downtime, lost production and decreased revenue. By addressing issues and ensuring overall operational technology (OT) equipment effectiveness and cyber preparedness, businesses can avoid letting minor problems or blind spots become major losses in the overall big picture.

Overall equipment effectiveness (OEE) is a valuable metric that organizations can use to help determine how well they operate and produce goods and services. Using OEE as a key performance indicator (KPI) is beneficial to determining performance, availability and quality. In tracking this key metric, manufacturers can glean data to better understand their cost to produce and return on investment.

4 ways to improve preparedness on the plant floor

1. Predictive maintenance

Predictive maintenance is critical in averting unscheduled or unplanned downtime in manufacturing operations. Planning maintenance in advance can allow original equipment manufacturers (OEM) to find a better time to perform maintenance that won’t cause unnecessary interruption. OEMs can determine a good time window by collecting data from sensors placed in and around equipment, allowing metrics to be developed and aggregated. For example, harmonic, thermal and vibration detection can all provide insights into when upkeep is necessary and help detect early warning signs of failure, allowing for more careful planning and reducing the risk of unexpected downtime.

In addition to collecting data from sensors, another practice that has recently emerged is the digital collection of asset inventories, machine profiles and digital data flows. These efforts look for vulnerabilities and exposures while searching for malicious activities such as viruses and malware within industrial control systems (ICS).

As manufacturing industry technology becomes increasingly interconnected, cybersecurity and digital safety has also become a higher priority. Bad actors are ramping up activities that target key manufacturing industries for the specific purpose of disrupting operations. According to a survey by the Thought Lab Group, an increase in attacks from social engineering and ransomware is a likelihood as nation-states and cyber criminals become more prevalent. The survey also notes these attacks would target weak spots primarily caused by software misconfigurations, human error and improper maintenance.

2. Advanced cybersecurity solutions

Advanced cybersecurity solutions can help prevent unscheduled and unplanned downtime by reducing the risk of cyberattacks on ICS environments. They provide a comprehensive range of services, solutions and technologies to assist in reducing and removing digital disruption. Managing the unseen can be complex, but investing in the right services and technologies will improve visibility of plant floor ICS assets and overall security posture. The solutions provide critical visibility into the OT network, helping operators and cybersecurity teams detect, respond and recover from cybersecurity incidents before they can cause unscheduled downtime.

3. Intrusion detection technology

Intrusion detection technology is specifically designed to detect threats targeting ICS environments, including malware, ransomware and other cyberattacks. These solutions are designed to detect threats traditional cybersecurity safeguards are likely to miss, as these traditional safeguards are not typically tailored to ICS environments. They also include network segmentation, endpoint protection and network hardening to prevent cyberattacks from compromising critical infrastructure.

4. Cybersecurity training programs

Another valuable digital safety measure is implementing cybersecurity training programs for OT plant floor teams. Training programs can cover key areas to include cyber threat awareness, OT safety concepts, best practices, security tools and the development of ideal OT cybersecurity operating procedures. This ensures plant floor operators can successfully respond to equipment failures and malfunctions in a timely and efficient manner. An OT cybersecurity training program can help organizations increase their cybersecurity readiness and reduce the risk of unscheduled and unplanned downtime.

Businesses cannot afford to lose valuable production time when it comes to operating their plant floor. Through lean manufacturing practices, predictive maintenance and securing ICS environments, companies can avoid costly damage to manufacturing operations by taking the proper steps and enlisting help from OT cybersecurity experts. These third-party experts can provide essential services, solutions and cutting-edge technology to effectively prevent unexpected downtime and enable real-time monitoring with instant alerts. A comprehensive OT cybersecurity training program can equip plant floor operators with the skills to respond to equipment failures or malfunctions swiftly and efficiently.

Gaining buy-in to this approach goes a long way toward creating an environment of seamless and efficient operations on the plant floor.




Keep your finger on the pulse of top industry news