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How to Identify, Quantify, and Mitigate Risk

In industrial operations, understanding what a failure of any system, component, or process could mean to your operations is key to overall risk mitigation.

Randy Otto

A key responsibility of executives and managers in manufacturing is that of risk management. This refers to the obvious risk of physical operations and staff protection, but it also includes quite a bit more: risk to contracts, availability of brands of the direct employer and those of other clients, reputation(s), regulatory, and risk to public safety and health.

Risk identification is a critical first step; otherwise, corrective actions cannot be undertaken or can be misguided. This is also an ongoing process because risks evolve constantly. One obvious solution is to install the correct staff in the tiers immediately below the executives, but that often raises questions about the specific qualifications of these employees, their tenure and familiarity with every facet of their role within that organization, and whether an overarching net has been cast to identify and compartmentalize relative risks. Further concerns arise around whether an internal team is free of groupthink and whether they possess the proper experience, qualifications, and motivations.

Fortunately, outside advisors exist who specialize in comprehensive risk identification and mitigation. As in most cases where outside counsel is sought, these are firms that have spent a significant amount of time in the direct or immediately tangential business of the clients. These firms can discuss and, more importantly, identify problem areas that exist based on their experience and they can bring new ways of investigating and quantifying these for clients.  

ECS Solutions (ECS) can serve as such an adviser. Having been in business since 1977, ECS works with dozens of unique clients every year and boasts an impressive track record for both new talent acquisition and senior management retention. This means that ECS’s decades of experience are well preserved and regularly imparted to new staff.

Risk assessment studies

In conducting comprehensive manufacturing risk assessments, studies by ECS include all items on the manufacturing floor, covering overall process functionality, both automated and manual, and the associated control hardware and manufacturing software. These studies also note standard operating procedures, as well as possible gaps and opportunities that exist within those procedures and related documentation. They also identify and quantify levels of exposure and deliver a tiered roadmap for future improvements.

As with all ECS projects, the ECS team works in close concert with the client’s teams. Existing information is used as a reference but is verified throughout the process. Any discrepancies are identified and, whenever possible, the client’s own templates and documents are used as the basis for notations. They couple this information with their investigation into the types and vintages of software, controllers and I/O cards, variable frequency drives and key control electronics, and communications devices such as Ethernet switches and connection points.

The ECS team then works behind the scenes to quantify the data and couple it with more detailed information. Their output report includes insights and reasoning behind all risk notations regarding the likelihood and impact of all the covered areas. The report also includes visual references to both a process flow diagram and a functional ecosystem layout which highlights the interconnected elements from the plant’s operations hierarchy.

Clients are left with a detailed understanding of everything they own, what a failure of any system, component or process would mean to their operations, and the likelihood of these occurring. This key information serves as a solid base from which to plan overall risk mitigation.

 Randy Otto is CEO of ECS Solutions, a certified member of the Control System Integrators Association (CSIA). For more information about ECS Solutions, visit its profile on the CSIA Industrial Automation Exchange.


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