Manufacturing is entering a new era of networked, automated devices. So what do manufacturers need to know about monitoring the rise of the machines in the industry? By Daniel Sultana, Director of Security and IoT Systems – APAC at Paessler.

Manufacturing companies today are embracing more cutting-edge technologies than ever before. In fact, global market intelligence firm IDC predicts that by 2019, 75% of large manufacturers will have updated their operations and operating models to incorporate the Internet of Things (IoT) and associated software applications to help mitigate risk and increase efficiency. This increased connectivity of IoT devices, robotics, and human-machine interfaces as a way to improve automation means that there are now an overwhelming number of connected devices and technologies within manufacturing that need to be monitored 24 hours a day, seven days a week to ensure they are delivering top performance at all times.

For organisations in the manufacturing industry, a high-performance network is becoming a basic ‘must have’ in this automated world – particularly when it means ensuring a functioning IT infrastructure is properly maintained. To ensure smooth operating procedures, all processes in the production line should run without complications, as malfunctions and failures in operational processes can result not only in a loss of time, but also significant financial and reputational losses. For this reason, the careful selection of a suitable network monitoring solution is a must.

Manufacturers need to understand the role of network monitoring when it comes to the rise of machines in the industry. When it comes to selecting the right monitoring tools for manufacturing processes, there are certain considerations that IT administrators in the industry need to be aware of:

  1. Know your requirements

The basic function of network monitoring solutions is to provide IT administrators with the time needed for more constructive tasks, rather than having to keep a constant watch on infrastructure and connected systems. This is particularly useful if the IT team is smaller in size.

Selecting an appropriate solution will need administrators to take into account the size of the network and the scenarios to be controlled. In the manufacturing industry, this would not just include your typical IT infrastructure, but any number of production machines, automated processes, and robotic technologies.

  1. Machine control

In the manufacturing industry, particularly one moving towards automation, there are a number of different machines and technologies that need to be monitored to ensure processes are functioning correctly. Network monitoring offers IT administrators more control over these machines, through providing a comprehensive overview of the entire network infrastructure.

Not only will software provide detailed insights into network processes and individual resources, but they can also provide immediate alerts to the IT team if there is an error or malfunction. With a number of solutions also providing remote access and complementary smartphone apps, this can ensure that the infrastructure is monitored at all times.

  1. Monitoring of things

As automation in the manufacturing industry increases, so too will the need for robust network monitoring systems. The IoT has already had a considerable effect on industry and manufacturing, and this is not likely to slow down. The IoT ensures everything is connected, and the implications for the industry mean more and larger things are needed to connect; each machine and device with its own intelligence and data set will need to communicate with all others, making the network a complex web of activity.

Not only will IT administrators need to be able to monitor infrastructure on a production line, but networks will also need to communicate with each other and be monitored across multiple sites. As we move further into the automated space, driverless vehicles will also be added to this network, requiring monitoring and maintenance around the clock.

Manufacturers need to implement robust monitoring systems that are capable of monitoring both the common IT systems that admins need to be across, as well as the production machinery and special environments in which they are deployed. If at any time a machine has a fault and stops functioning correctly, network monitoring tools should be set up to ensure this is flagged to the IT or system administrator, as well as any other necessary staff to address the problem. For systems in which automatic alerts are triggered by the system when it detects an unusual or uncommon occurrence, malfunction, or even failure, the security level of network monitoring can increase even more.

As such, it is crucial that monitoring tools provide appropriate options, such as email, text, or even mobile app notifications, to immediately raise an alert to the IT manager. This is something that must be considered when selecting a network monitoring system. Knowing what the problem is, how long it has been an issue, and which services may be affected can help the IT administrator be more proactive. They can maintain systems rather than having to fix them after they ‘break’.