Wireless is not a ‘set it and forget it’ solution.
Wireless is being utilised more than ever in control architectures. It is flexible, versatile and can be cost effective; however, concerns about the security, reliability, and capacity of wireless continue to prevent conservative end users from reaping its benefits. Are these concerns valid? This article will address these points head-on, disentangling the misconceptions from genuine challenges, providing insight about how to overcome obstacles now and down the road with proper understanding, planning and execution.
Is wireless better or worse than a wired network? The answer is no; it is different. A plethora of wireless technologies exist to suit a variety of users. Is it for every application? No. But for many, wireless can be more flexible, versatile and cost effective than wired networks. Yet, questions regarding security, reliability and capacity of wireless continue to prevent conservative end users from reaping its benefits. Can these be overcome?
Security is the first topic to arise when discussing wireless in a plant network and the decision to deploy is often not one made in isolation. Plant engineers want to ensure uninterrupted production and that security measures are in place to protect their process and plant floor equipment. IT engineers want to ensure that systems deployed in the plant co-exist well with networks in the rest of the organisation and that nothing compromises the security of corporate information. Though different, the concerns of both the plant-floor engineer and the IT engineer are of high importance.
Today, the mechanisms are in place for industrial wireless systems to address the issues of both stakeholders. However, understanding what capabilities exist in wireless networking devices and how to utilise them for the betterment of the operation is not always appreciated. Modern encryption techniques can be utilised to avoid someone interpreting your data maliciously. Filtering and strong authentication allow only authorised devices on the network. The mechanisms that are relied upon by the US government for transferring secret information are present in today’s industrial wireless devices, and address many of the concerns of security of information, assets and reliability of processes.
So, the discussion on security for a plant network is not one in which IT engineers and plant engineers have competing interests. Instead, each has their own experiences. Plant engineers have depth of experience in 24/7 reliability and the role reliability plays when deploying automation networks. IT engineers have depth of experience in co-existence of multiple systems and network management. The two can complement each other if cooperation exists.
Find out more about engaging cooperation from the IT department, meeting capacity requirements, network reliability and wireless for control: http://instrumentation.co.za/+C15631
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