IIoT Edge Gateways Provide Fortified Factory Connectivity

AutomationDirect IIoT edge gateways are the straightforward way for users to provide secure connectivity to factory automation assets.

Jonathan Griffith, product manager for AutomationDirect, wrote an article for the April 2022 issue of Efficient Plant titled Edge Gateways Deliver Secure Connectivity. Here’s a summary, click on the link above for the full text.

A familiar idiom states “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” However, plenty of industrial users need to “fix” new and existing automation installations so they can achieve remote access, but they are concerned about the associated cybersecurity issues.

Digitalization Naturally Leads to Remote Connectivity

As companies progress along the IIoT maturity model, they realize that maximum value can only be achieved from Industry 4.0 projects if they can access all the source data and analyze it to really determine what is happening. Once that is known, end users and OEMs can close the loop back to the factory floor by making informed decisions to optimize operations.

Security Concerns Abound

Cyberattacks, where a malicious party disrupts operations or extracts data, are perceived as the greatest threat. But even normal technician activity can inadvertently enable a virus or result in unintended changes. OT systems remain in service for 15 years and more, while typical IT assets are changed out within 5 years.

Building Security and Connectivity

Machine and plant networks consisting of PLCs, HMIs, and the like are in the OT network. More advanced SCADA/MES/ERP can exist in either the OT or IT networks, or both. The solution for protecting OT assets which can connect to IT and the cloud is to apply an IoT edge gateway at each machine to:

  • Provide routing between networks
  • Block unwanted connections with a firewall
  • Incorporate a modem for secure internet connection
  • Enable remote users to access the machine network for programming and debugging
  • Facilitate cloud-based IoT data collection, visualization, and alarming

Protecting the Plant

An IoT edge gateway protects underlying machine networks from the higher-level OT and IT networks. OEM machine builders or end users can add IoT edge gateways to standard equipment, providing cybersecurity for the systems and aiding compliance with IEC62443.

Some cybersecurity challenges are easier to spot than others, but industrial automation systems can afford no lapses. IoT edge gateways are a universal method of providing this connectivity, while effectively segregating and securing machine networks from the plant production, business, and cloud networks.