“The choice to not digitize your plant is a decision to go out of business.” – Dave Edstrom, CTO, Memex

Strong words, right? More than ever, though, this is the reality of manufacturing. This digital revolution offers a wealth of opportunities, but also many challenges.

The question, then, is this: How can we effectively implement the digital factory to transform the manufacturing process, while also minimizing risk? 

Edstrom’s quote came at the recent [MC]2 Conference in Dallas, an event focused on MTConnect and other topics related to digital manufacturing. One theme that was repeated time and again: When it comes to cyber-physical security, it’s not about IF an attack will happen, but when. 

However, that’s not an excuse to decide to leave your entire factory disconnected. Indeed, as manufacturing is the world’s most data-rich industry, choosing not to track, monitor and analyze that data is failing to utilize one of your most important assets. It also nearly guarantees being overtaken by the competitors who jump in to leverage the opportunities that data creates.

Edstrom recommended taking the “Secret Service approach” of establishing perimeters and always having a plan for if (or when) things go wrong. Also important is a focus on data encryption, but also having awareness about where threats actually originate. Bryce Barnes, senior manager of Cisco’s machine builder and robot segment, said that it’s a common misperception that most cyber threats come from outside an organization. More often, the threats are from within.

With so many concerns, where is a manufacturer to turn? Fortunately, a growing number of firms are dedicated to helping manufacturers analyze their current digital practices, including areas of risk. Additionally, a number of universities are also taking on research related to manufacturing cyber security. For example, Virginia Tech now has a Cyber-Physical Security Systems Manufacturing Group within its college of engineering. The group hosts training and workshops aimed at helping manufacturers; information is available at cpssmfg.com.

Bottom line: Get a plan, know your risks, check and update them regularly. In digital manufacturing, the riskiest move is not taking one at all.

Watch for more information coming soon about [MC]2 Conference 2017.