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Staying safe in the IT age of manufacturing

As the Fourth Industrial Revolution unfolds, IT is dramatically changing the manufacturing industry. For some, this is a scary prospect – because where there are computers, there are hackers and viruses.

However, while there are undoubtedly risks, IT should be associated with greater output and profits, not costly shutdowns. Just a little planning can ensure your manufacturing business is safe from hackers and prepared to reap the benefits of the changing environment.

IT means new ways to make things

Perhaps the most important shift that we’ve seen over the past few years is that, as a result of significant drops in the cost of sensor-enabled devices, big data now lies at the heart of manufacturing.

That means the machines doing the “heavy lifting” are also learning as they do the job.

Armed with such increasingly cost-effective hardware as cameras, accelerometers and thermometers – to barely scratch the surface – today’s robots can adjust to changes in their environment in real-time.

What’s more, thanks to the increased power and affordability of cloud computing, artificial intelligence can analyze huge streams of data – amounts that no human could ever hope to make sense of – and predict outcomes with breathtaking accuracy.

It adds up to the kind of robots now being used by the likes of FedEx and Honeywell to unpack their trucks – a job that was too complex for anything but a human until recently, due to the differing sizes of packages being shipped.

The kicker? It’s generally the case that these advances end up being a win in the HR department as well.

“Getting people out of the trailer and on the dock side managing several of these machines is a huge factor as it relates to employee satisfaction and retention,” Matt Wicks, vice president of product development at Honeywell’s Intelligrated unit, told the Los Angeles Times.

Don’t fear the hacker

Of course, anyone who’s ever clicked a dodgy link before (read: everyone) knows that more IT means more risk. Hackers can target your company and the more computer-based devices you have as part of your operation, the greater the “attack surface” you present.

Moreover, since advances in manufacturing are reliant upon devices being connected, this generally means that one device being infected can swiftly lead to a large issue for your entire operation.

As for what you can do to ensure your company is as safe as possible, there are some simple steps you can take:

  • Upgrades: Make sure all your devices can be upgraded. Just as technology is constantly improving, so too are the means by which it can be infiltrated – so make sure any connected devices can easily upgrade and stay ahead of the game.
  • Passwords: Resist the urge to use company-wide passwords. For every device, you need a strong, individual password. Similarly, you’ll want to ensure your employees aren’t using “password” – an issue that continues to be all too common – when they’re given a chance to set up their sign-in details.
  • Training: Human error can lead to major security problems, so ongoing training and education for your workforce are critical to ensuring simple errors – like computers being logged on or passwords being shared – don’t arise.

The benefits vastly outweigh the risks

Finally, keep in mind that hackers are an issue the whole world is still dealing with.

That’s not to say you can afford to be complacent, merely that the world’s largest companies and even countries are far larger targets, yet they are embracing AI and IT in automation.

It’s a pretty strong endorsement for this new way of doing things. There are drawbacks, of course, but the potential upside for manufacturing in the IT age is virtually unparalleled in human history.