Cyber experts examine connectivity, AI and Augmented Reality for manufacturing industry at Critical Networks Forum


The Smart Factory Institute of Tennessee hosted the Critical Networks in Manufacturing Forum on 8 June at its headquarters in Cleveland, Tennessee along with partners, Control System Integrators Association (CSIA) and Manufacturing Enterprise Solutions Association (MESA) International.

The Forum brought together business, industry, and government cyber experts from across the country to discuss and share best practices for thwarting criminal and unethical uses of new technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI) and digital twins in manufacturing operations. Attendees also learned how intelligent wireless infrastructure can accelerate their plant operations by improving security, reliability, scalability, and integration.

Denise Hall, President and CEO of Peak Performance (operators of the Smart Factory Institute) opened the Forum by discussing the role of critical networks as manufacturers adopt Industry 4.0 technologies. “Advanced Connectivity is the first pillar of the four core technology pillars of Industry 4.0,” said Hall, referencing the four pillars of Industry 4.0 graphic below.

“Smart factories will soon include an integrated network of technologies such as the Internet of Things (IoT), machine sensors, software, and cloud computing, allowing connected devices to interact with each other and the external environment. As human users, it’s vital that we understand the risks of criminal and unethical applications of these technologies, but also the positive potential that this tighter form of human-machine integration brings to manufacturing operations.” 

Four pillars of Industry 4.0 

Following Hall’s remarks, Trever White, Group Manager, Digital Intelligent Manufacturing Engineering, Toyota North America, gave the keynote address. White discussed Toyota’s journey transitioning to Industry 4.0, including several case studies where augmented, virtual, and mixed-reality coupled with Reality Capture and 3D tools helped to significantly reduce lead times to market and accelerate cost efficiency, productivity, and quality along the way. Recognized by CIO 100 and Smart Industry Top 50 Innovators, White presented attendees with recommendations and best practices on how to accelerate their own companies’ transition to Industry 4.0. 

“The biggest challenge is underestimating the effort required to shift to data-driven operations, specifically understanding the cultural change that’s required within the company,” said White. “You must communicate a clear and compelling Industry 4.0 vision from the top down [...] making sure you have a comprehensive, secure network and IoT platform, and equip your workforce with the skills they need to shift to a smart manufacturing, data-driven mindset. The engineering side and plant floor members have to drive this transformation, it can’t be driven by the IT side of things.” 

Attendees also heard from Klint Walker, Cybersecurity Advisor, Region IV, U.S. Department of Homeland Security. Klint described examples of real-world cyber attacks on manufacturing facilities and the impact they had on the companies involved, as well as best practices for cyber security in manufacturing, including risk assessments, employee training, and implementing security controls such as firewalls and intrusion detection systems.

The Forum featured three additional sessions. Brent Pye, Automation Sales Manager at Phoenix Contact – a global leader in electrical engineering, electronics and automation – examined the basics of wireless networks as the foundational technology enabling connection, management, and operation of the physical, digital, and biological elements required to reimagine manufacturing. 

Jose Rivera, CEO of the Control System Integrators Association (CSIA), presented alongside Randy Rausch, Director of Technology – Digital Transformation at EOSYS, a CSIA-Certified member. The two examined the role of industrial system integrators (SIs) in enabling manufacturers to deploy advanced automation solutions. “In order to stay competitive and address challenges related to talent and labor shortages, manufacturers must adapt to digitally transformative technologies,” said Rivera. “At CSIA, we seek to give manufacturers access to low-risk, safe and successful applications of automation technology by advancing the business practices of the system integration industry.” 

The fourth session included Darryl Deaton, VP of Network Solutions at BearCom, North America’s largest provider and system integrator of wireless and data solutions. Deaton emphasized the value of deploying private networks in industrial environments, giving examples of how private networks offer an added layer of security while achieving better performance and coverage than traditional Wi-Fi, without the typical costs of high data transfer volume over public cellular. 

The Forum closed out with a lunch presentation from Chattanooga’s city-owned energy and telecom utility, EPB, on the launch of the first commercially-available, fiber-based Quantum network.

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