Opening the Door

Feb. 4, 2009
Ethernet has become the leading industrial network over the past five years or so.

Of course, its popularity is built upon two long-standing and solid foundations. In the first place, Ethernet won the corporate networking wars many years ago. On the plant side, fieldbus networks finally gained a critical mass several years ago after much engineering and evangelistic work. Now the two are coming together as networking has become acceptable.

Moving networking into factories and plants was not easy. My first brush with a customer at an automotive factory about networking in the early ’90s was quite negative. “We’ll never run a wire from a programmable controller to anything. It’s not safe,” he told me. Indeed, the first objections were safety related. But the work of the networking standards organizations and fieldbus suppliers has progressed to the point that there are actually networks specifically designed for safety systems.

Then came the Internet and the “World Wide Web,” now known simply as the “Web.” We wrote stories about how controls engineers could troubleshoot problems “from anywhere in the world” at any time. I was personally thanked (not entirely enthusiastically) by engineers who noted that their bosses now expected them to be on call 24 hours a day. Others saw the benefit of the ability to solve problems from home, obviating a trip to the facility.

This communication capability opened factory control systems to the outside world, bringing a new set of problems—namely, security. There are discontented, mischievous or criminal people who try to “hack” into any system they can. Now controls engineers not only need networking skills, they also need cybersecurity skills.

Progress has been such with cyber security that business managers can look at security measures not only as a cost of doing business, but these measures can also provide a return on investment. It’s amazing how taking a fresh look at a system can bring improvements across the board. In this case, security pays.

For an interesting and informative podcast interview conducted by Automation World Managing Editor Wes Iversen with Eric Cosman, of Dow Chemical, covering the latest on cybersecurity in the chemical industry, visit
www.automationworld.com/podcast-4820.

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