Supply chain disruptions continue to plague every industry with no relief in sight, and manufacturers are finding themselves in the hot seat as they deal with the many challenges presented to them. Issues range from material and labor shortages to unpredictable fluctuations in consumer demand and everything in between. To position themselves for success in the months and years to come, manufacturers must be able to work quickly and efficiently, as well as deploy new supporting technology in an affordable, cost-effective way. Increasingly, this demand has driven a plethora of “as-a-service” offerings that align expense with consumption, enabling businesses to implement new, innovative technologies like private mobile networks rapidly at an affordable price.
Real carrier-class mobility
As Wi-Fi has spread its wings into the operations side of business, some weaknesses emerged despite all of the benefits the technology introduced. Specifically, a requirement for seamless and uninterrupted service became a must have. With an increasing number of wireless connected machines in factories these days, this need has turned into a key pain point.
Private mobile networks, based on cellular technologies, address these mobility requirements in a comprehensive way. That which we all take for granted as cellular consumers is precisely the rock-solid-cannot-fail mobility required in the modern factory. One can imagine that a technology designed to provide continuous service to a car speeding down a highway at 100 miles an hour can easily track robots and forklifts moving at much lower speeds in a well-defined space.
But as those who have built carrier-class mobile infrastructure know, it is not for the faint of heart and certainly not light on the wallet. Cellular based mobility under the carrier paradigm requires significant investment in both human and actual capital, but there are new solutions emerging that allow enterprises to easily create, customize, and control cellular based mobile networks as-a-service at a much lower cost. Introducing cost effective cellular based mobility is best supported inside the enterprise network, at the edge, where cellular based mobility can be completely abstracted behind easily used enterprise-based API’s. In this new paradigm the enterprise network can introduce cellular mobility with little in-house cellular-mobile network expertise and do so with minimal investment in on premise infrastructure.
The security thing
When defining the security mechanisms for the mobile infrastructure we all depend on today, the engineers on the standards committees had to consider it from the ground up. This approach was fundamental to the design of these systems and counter to the less stringent approach taken with many enterprise-grade products–Wi-Fi chief among them. Imagine the challenges one must consider building a security framework for a network exposed to the entire U.S. population and accessible to only those that paid for the service–where a security breach could bring down the entire network. This would be a significant national security concern. Fortunately, cellular mobile technology has a very sophisticated security framework that has proven to be up to the task of the most aggressive security threat scenarios.
Private mobile networks leverage all the security functionality of the macro cellular network. Applying these mechanisms to the environment found on the factory floor ensures the most stringent security possible. Only defined devices provisioned in the system can access the network. Data streams are encrypted in flight with the strongest algorithms available. In addition, authorization can be tightly controlled within the enterprise with the standard mechanisms provided under the existing governance rules within the enterprise network perimeter.
In this way, private mobile networks provide world-class security for the mobile communication medium by ensuring device authentication and further leverage enterprise access control as stipulated by enterprise IT. These factors provide a “defense-in-depth” approach to security that is difficult, if not impossible, to break into–a good thing, since downtime is money.
Mobile network as a service in manufacturing
The benefits of deploying a private mobile network in support of manufacturing are substantial. As factories implement a more data centric manufacturing platform, connected entities like humans and robots become important elements in highly complex workflows. The ability to provide and maintain consistent and reliable connection to the network, and by extension all applications, is critical to maintaining and driving productivity. Further, cellular-class mobility substantially eclipses the utility of portability that Wi-Fi provides.
On the security front, the same schemes that secure the billions of devices connected to cellular networks around the world are certainly up to the task in a more narrowly defined private mobile network on the manufacturing floor. In addition, the standard enterprise security mechanisms also natively apply, providing defense so in depth that any hacker would find it difficult to breach.
As a manufacturer, when shopping around for private mobile networks, it’s important to do your research and choose a solution that provides the maximum benefit for the lowest cost and the quickest deployment time. Many options require significant investment in equipment and software, but not all. Newer solutions that employ easy-to-use APIs simplify both deployment and operations, giving manufacturers the secure mobile connectivity they require to keep their facilities safe and productive around the clock and into the future.