The Future of Factories.

Author:Coussins, Andy

Part One-The Intelligence Within.

As a society we now expect products to be intelligent and conform to the norms that are being established. This has huge implications for all sectors of our economy, but if you are a manufacturer this expectation is amplified on several fronts. Consumers now expect an element of intelligence in the products you make, from fridges and lawn mowers, to door bells, trainers and even socks.

When done successfully, like Amazon's smart speaker Alexa, it transforms an industry. But if approached incorrectly, a product can become dangerous both physically and virtually. A recent example showed how an electric scooter can be remotely controlled to accelerate and brake from 100 metres away. A great example of innovation but while security standards and laws are still being established, it could have its downsides.

Within the factory walls, owners and employees expect safety and augmentation, high availability of equipment and efficiency. The need to raise productivity to stay competitive is increasing and those that can apply technology to build higher quality products, faster and with features that consumers didn't even realise they needed, will ultimately succeed.

For years we have had ERP systems feeding downline manufacturing execution systems (MES) and supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) systems, but while these have been connected, it has mostly been ad-hoc, one way and with minimal intelligence being applied. Even in the best cases it is a closed loop isolation and not used to redefine the product.

To give factories the confidence to take the plunge in full scale IoT adoption and realise the benefits, they need to be reassured about security and stability. Failing to start with a secure foundation, or utilising best practices and platforms is an expensive mistake to make. The United States Congress has just recently introduced the Internet of Things Cybersecurity Improvement Act aimed to change the 'convenience over security' consensus that seems to have emerged and define security standards for IoT companies that sell to the US government. This type of legislation is only set to increase across the globe, with the UK looking to introduce new laws regarding password protection for IoT gadgets.

Azure Sphere from Microsoft is an example of a technology used to build highly secure connected intelligent products. Security is at the heart of the microcontroller and combined with the operating system and...

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