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Interview with expert Wolfgang Schwering: How users can prepare for industrial networks

Industrial communication

Networking made easy

Digital operational procedures, integrated processes and a rapidly growing volume of data – high-performance communication networks are crucial for staying competitive. But how should such networks be planned, dimensioned, implemented, and made secure? Wolfgang Schwering, Siemens expert and trainer for Industrial Networks, explains how users can prepare for digitalization.

Mr. Schwering, why should I as a user manage my industrial networks myself rather than simply outsource this task?

Wolfgang Schwering: The production network is part of the production process and thus lies at the heart of every manufacturing company. The production network contains quite a lot of company know-how – and that is something that should be protected! If you outsource the management of your ­networks, sensitive information can easily fall into the wrong hands, for example information about your newest product. If you prefer or are forced to outsource, then a trustworthy and reliable partner is indispensable. Still, the plant operator should have some knowledge about how the network is structured and how it works. This way, if there is an emergency, for example a failure on a Sunday evening, the operator can intervene himself or herself.

You personally prepare users for these changes and the new demands of the market. What are the greatest challenges your training course participants face on a daily basis?

Schwering: The people we train come from a very wide variety of ­industries. They are not only the usual automation technicians who want to expand their knowledge, but also IT specialists who are ­unfamiliar with industrial requirements. It is this point where industry and the office world intersect – production IT – that is of particular importance. We also train our own employees and the 36 certified Siemens Solution partners, who are available as direct contacts to the end customers in 14 countries. What most attendees have in common is that often they are already working with machine or plant networks. The next step for them is to integrate those networks into a higher-­level structure. This makes these networks considerably more complex. The challenge here is to make them secure and create a remote ­access point to the plant for monitoring or maintenance. Availability also needs to be ensured. Moreover, modern technicians need to define what redundancy mechanisms they can use while also meeting auto­mation requirements. Sometimes environmental requirements need to be taken into account, for example for applications in hostile environments such as oil rigs or the ­desert, or regulations regarding ­explosion protection and prevention in the chemicals industry.

What do your course participants take back home with them or to their companies?

Schwering: Many of our customers have acquired their network expertise through on-the-job training. So they have a certain level of know-how, but still have some gaps to fill. Our trainers have practical experience and impart solid knowledge about the entire lifecycle of the customer plant. This saves a considerable amount of money, especially in the planning stages. We show our customers how to correctly dimension their network and set it up using the right components so that it runs smoothly and reliably. It is not very easy to improve existing plants at a later time. You need to know certain tips and tricks in order to reduce downtime as much as possible when optimizing customer plants.

The production network contains quite a lot of company know-how – and that is something that should be protected!
Wolfgang Schwering, expert and trainer for industrial networks




 

Cyber attacks are also more and more frequently causing plant downtime – according to KPMG, more than half of all Swiss ­companies were the target of such an attack last year. According to a study conducted by ­Juniper Research, small and ­medium-sized enterprises are particularly vulnerable to this risk – and the costs caused by such attacks are increasing exponentially. How can this issue be addressed?

Schwering: First, take this problem seriously and invest in cyber security – there is much that can be improved here, especially in small and medium-sized enterprises. Networks are quickly set up, connected to the Internet, and ready to go. Securing them and protecting them against data theft and sabotage is essential, otherwise you’ll end up paying twice the amount. Our scaled Defense in Depth concept allows our customers to protect their plants and networks comprehensively. We help machine manufacturers use encryption and authentication to prevent unauthorized access to their plants. They can service their plants and machines securely and conveniently with an easy-to-install management platform for remote networks – even if they are integrated in third-party networks.

Picture credits: Siemens AG / Stephan Minx