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How to Support the Industrial IoT Using WiFi as a Service

Written by Michelle Pierce Michelle Pierce | April 23, 2019

If you have a Ring video doorbell or Nest thermostat for your home, you’ve experienced the innovation and power of IoT-enabled devices. But besides more basic residential and office applications, there’s an entirely separate subcategory of IoT (Internet of Things) that’s unique to manufacturing and warehousing: the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT).

Understanding the Industrial Macro Trends Surrounding the Use of IoT in Manufacturing

While mainstream news coverage might give the impression that manufacturing facilities in the U.S are an endangered species, that’s not the case. For example, trade publication IndustryWeek recently addressed this in America’s New Factory Building Frenzy: some very well known blue chip companies are building more factories in the U.S.: for example Foxconn in Wisconsin, Mazda and Toyota in Alabama, and Volvo in South Carolina.

Then there’s a banner ad, right next to that article, that confirmed another trend: a promotion for an upcoming trade show that’s the intersection of where industrial IT and IoT come together: The Internet of Things World in Santa Clara, California entices readers to visit the “Intersection of Industries and IoT Innovation.”

In a recent article in Wired, Deloitte Digital’s IoT chief technologist, Robert Schmid, explained how connected, smart “things” are changing manufacturing. Schmid’s explained that networked IIoT sensors and intelligent devices on manufacturing floors could collect data that power entirely new and potentially disruptive applications based on artificial intelligence and predictive analytics.

By reading this article, you’ll see how industrial businesses are using IoT as a competitive weapon, learn why IoT introduces security threats in manufacturing and warehouse environments, and identify how WiFi services are the key to effective IoT use in industrial environments.

Find Out How Industrial Businesses Use IoT as a Competitive Advantage

For any company that manufactures goods in the U.S., where the cost of labor is likely significantly higher than manufacturing and other nations, IT-driven efficiency isn’t a nice-to-have. Innovation is a competitive necessity. IoT and more specifically the industrial version, IIoT, plays a vital role in making this happen.

When discussing the operational value of IIoT, IBM identified the top 5 industrial IoT use cases: connected vehicles, fleet management, predictive maintenance, smart metering, and tracking assets.

However no matter how innovative the IoT applications, the “things” can’t talk to each other and your line of business software applications unless you have rock solid wireless network infrastructure.

So if you’re in a leadership role in a company with a big commitment to industrial IoT in manufacturing and warehousing, the question you should be asking:

Is your company’s wireless network fast enough, reliable enough, and secure enough to power your company's most demanding IIoT applications?

For example, have you considered the three “M’s”?

Monitoring -- Who’s monitoring your network so that you can be proactively alerted when equipment goes offline or exceeds threshold limitations? Are you collecting system performance data over time, allowing for insight into trend analysis? Without this insight, it can be somewhere between difficult and impossible to chart your system’s performance and understand where it is having challenges and why.

Managing -- How are you managing WiFi performance? Do you have the right network management tools and processes in place to prevent problems and ensure a stable WiFi network? What are you doing to maintain high performance and user satisfaction? How do you identify system outages and notify the responsible parties for remediation? Who takes care of reviewing configurations and updating the firmware to ensure that your wireless network is up to date and performing at its best?

Measuring -- You know the drill: you can’t improve what you don’t measure. Is your IT team measuring both the network as a whole and end-user experience? What kind of WiFi performance testing has been completed to establish your baseline? How do you regularly measure against that baseline to ensure optimal network performance? Do you have sensors in place that can emulate client device usage patterns?

Address IoT-Related Security Threats with Managed Network Services

So now that you know how manufacturing and warehousing facilities use the Internet of Things to stay competitive, and how your wireless network performance impacts IIoT, addressing IoT-related security threats needs to move to the front burner.

Consider these four building blocks for effective wireless network security in industrial environments:

  1. Integrated firewalls -- If your manufacturing facility or warehouse has IoT devices, you need an effective, integrated firewall strategy just as much as you need perimeter fencing, secure doors, and an alarm system. However many leaders of industrial companies have failed to keep up with the bad guys. Over the past several years, the frequency, intensity, severity, and business impact of security incidents has risen sharply. Fortunately, firewall technology has evolved considerably, but many industrial environments have lagged in their adoption of basic integrated firewall best practices. To avoid becoming a statistic, make sure your next-generation firewall has real-time visibility and control over the applications and traffic running on your WiFi network.
  2. Network access control (NAC) -- To use IIoT securely, it’s vital that your devices and systems have access to precisely what they need -- no more, no less. Network access control provides industrial environments with a comprehensive and dynamic way to control and manage access to your network's resources. Make sure that you can identify, assign, and enforce custom policies based on who, what, where, and when someone or something is trying to access your wireless network. Just as important, you should be able to see the devices, not only the IP address, to make it easier to pinpoint issues and devices.
  3. Profiling -- Do you know the specific functions of each of your company’s IoT devices? Do you have a well-organized list of each IoT device’s distinct requirements? If so, you should be able to implement profiling on your wireless network, so you’re able to identify a device through a set of variables and behaviors. The goal: to develop visibility and control and limit access so that you can secure your company’s industrial “things.”
  4. Preventative measures -- Do you have systems in place to proactively detect and immediately prevent threats? How confident are you in your company’s intrusion detection and prevention systems? Are you able to detect breaches and attacks from within? What about triggers from behavioral anomalies, blacklists, or quarantined IoT devices and systems?

Analyze The Value of WiFi Services

Because of the growing mission-critical importance of IoT in industrial environments -- especially manufacturing facilities and warehouses, most companies need IT staff on-site at all locations, at all times. However that’s often just not practical or existing staff may be applications experts or generalists, rather than enterprise security or enterprise WiFi experts.

And that’s the reason why, for so many industrial companies, it makes more financial sense to look to a company like SecurEdge Networks for managed WiFi services.

For example, with SecurEdge WiFi as a Service (WaaS), you get everything that industrial customers have come to expect from their managed WiFi all within their monthly subscription:

Hardware as a Service (HaaS) -- The right hardware for your manufacturing facility or warehouse -- based on expert, enterprise WiFi design and engineering -- that provides a great end user experience

Software as a Service (SaaS) -- All of the cloud-based tools and resources needed for managing your industrial WiFi network and IIoT devices -- including network monitoring, guest WiFi management, and weekly network health reports

Managed Network Services (MNS) -- Great managed WiFi includes ongoing support with 24/7 network monitoring and a tier 2 level support help desk

The Bottom Line on How to Support Industrial IoT Using WiFi as a Service

Modern, technology-centric manufacturing facilities and warehouses look very different than they did as recently as ten years ago. To remain competitive, companies across many industries are aggressively investing in a variety of IoT-centric technology platforms.

However all of these “things” have one thing in common: they all require a reliable, fast, and secure wireless network infrastructure.

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