Three Steps to Develop your Manufacturing Network Strategy

October 8, 2014


By: James Burnand, Director – Mid-Atlantic Region, Grantek Systems Integration

It is important to take several steps when planning your industrial network strategy. Many times the reason that issues occur is that the organization has not formalized a strategy prior to the technology reaching them. Vendors, OEMs, Integrators and even your internal staff will look to technology solutions to solve their individual problems or drive their efficiency regardless of your preparedness.

Step 1 – Identify Architecture

This isn’t as simple as doing a bit of researching online and saying, “yes, this is good”. You must identify your current and future-state business requirements and ensure that you design (conceptually) something that will meet all those requirements. With the prevalence of Lean/Six Sigma and the thirst for a fully integrated supply chain, the ability to completely segregate manufacturing systems is all but gone.

A good reference architecture to which we often refer as a starting point is published by Cisco Systems and Rockwell Automation. The concepts and base structure of this architecture are fairly widely adopted in manufacturing.

Step 2 – Segmentation

Once you have analyzed your business requirements and your current state and have created an architecture supporting both, you will need to decide upon segmentation. The division of your networked assets into organized groups is very important to ensure maintainability, expandability as well as to ensure that you are able to implement proper security techniques. Using the Cisco/Rockwell architecture as a baseline, Grantek has created a diagram to assist manufacturers in deciding upon how best to segment their assets.

This diagram introduces the concept of “MicroVLANs”. While this is not an industry standard term, it is a good way to describe a specific methodology to leverage the managed network architecture while still providing the disconnected network necessary for devices such as I/O, drives, etc. A diagram showing typical connections of a “MicroVLAN” is shown next.

Step 3 – Standards and Migration Strategies

Once you have established your strategy for networking, you might be faced with a dilemma. What do I do with all of my existing assets?

In many cases the existing manufacturing assets are not structured in a way that will allow for easy migration. There are issues with non-standard networks and protocols. There are technologies in use that simply must be replaced to support your strategy and your business. My advice is the following:

  • Build a migration strategy and identify a life cycle for equipment if there isn’t one already
  • Define and enforce the standards for all new equipment (managed switches, adherence to security requirements, standard data interfaces)
  • Retrofit the legacy systems as a part of other projects, where possible
  • Identify (early) where the limitations in supporting the future business requirements are to senior/executive management

For more information on Networks and Network Strategy contact Garrett Austin.

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