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Charlotte Stonestreet

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Malware targets industrial safety systems 15/01/2018

News has emerged of a malicious software designed specifically to enable the damage or destruction of industrial equipment. Reports say that the ‘Triton’ malware, which has been designed specifically to communicate with safety instrumented systems (SIS) and deploy alternative logic to these devices, has been used used against at least one organisation in the Middle East, although it's not known in what kind of industrial facility, or even in which country, the malware appeared.

Seemingly having been in existence since at least August 2017, Triton, which is also known as Trisis, works by infecting a Windows computer that is expected to be connected to a SIS device. The malware then injects code modifying the behaviour of the SIS device. However, at present the intended effect is unclear and investigation is still underway. The incident was originally disclosed by FireEye, when its subsidiary, Mandiant, which specialises in acting on and proactively protecting against advanced cyber security threats, responded to an incident at a critical infrastructure organisation.

Triton specifically targets Triconex products sold by Schneider Electric. In the reported incident, the Triconex systems entered a ‘fail safe’ state and the plant was shut down safely. However, there has been speculation that much more serious damage could have been caused.

Here in the UK, the National Cyber Security Centre is of the opinion that to deploy and successfully activate such malware, the attacker would need to know a target environment in-depth. The process of acquiring this knowledge may take several weeks or months, during which the attacker is likely to have used engineering documentation and enumeration of the network to further their goals.

While there is no information to suggest that the malware is more broadly deployable - indeed, it likely does not pose an immediate threat to other Schneider Electric customers, let alone other SIS products it could signal the beginning of a new era. Triton is one of only a handful viruses reported to date capable of disrupting industrial processes – the first and most infamous being Struxnet – yet its very existence suggests that it won’t be long before other hackers will try and copy this type of attack.

For more information on Triton and tips on how to mitigate against this type of cyber security threat whatever your SIS device vendor visit the NCSE website at http://bit.ly/2DbMDsT

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Driving technology take up 23/11/2017

I was recently lucky enough to visit ABB’s facility in Helsinki. As you can imagine, conversation at one the world’s leading providers of variable speed drives inevitably turned to the huge level of electric motors that operate without a VSD.

A group of us had toured the site, including the particularly impressive forensic labs that help to ensure product coming out of the facility achieves the highest levels of reliability. We were all well versed in the benefits of using VSDs, both in terms of energy efficiency and productivity - yet we were still faced with the conundrum of why still less than one in ten of every electric motor is fitted with a VSD.

Let’s just think about that figure for a moment... more than 90% of electric motors are not fitted with VSDs. OK, so not every situation is going to benefit from a VSD, but with around half of all motor applications having some kind of varying demand, many, many would. A variable speed drive can reduce energy consumption by as much as 60%. For a 90kW motor in continuous duty, this can mean over £9000 per year. Of course, the amount that you save does depend on the price paid for energy in the first palce, however, even in the countries with the highest energy costs, the uptake of VSD technology is woefully low. In a sector that has long been shouting about the benefits of VSDs, both in terms of a healthier bottom line and the environmental advantages to be gained, it seems incredible that the message still hasn’t got through.

Whatever lies behind industry’s reluctance to invest in VSDs, it certainly seems as if a new approach is needed in order to encourage more widespread use of the technology. If it is the capital expenditure that is making potential users balk, then perhaps more inventive financing options could be encouraged. In the consumer sector, they way many people finance cars has changed with the latest deals meaning they lease their vehicles rather than owning them outright. Likewise, in the building energy management sector, there are many innovative SMEs installing energy saving solutions and taking their payment out of the resulting cost savings.
Surely there is the opportunity for imaginative entrepreneurs to apply this type of model to the motors and drives sector. As I witnessed at the Helsinki plant, today’s  quality VSDs offer really high levels of reliability, so negating potential worries about failure and unplanned downtime, particularly when combined with the latest condition monitoring systems.

Imagine the worldwide energy savings if, instead of less than 10% of ten motors being fitted with a VSD the figure was reversed and more than 90% were fitted with a VSD. It’s almost unimaginable, yet in theory it should be possible.

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The growing need for agricultural automation 13/10/2017

Since the UK voted for Brexit, the number of EU workers coming to the UK has dropped; not only do many feel less welcome, the lower value of Sterling means it is no longer as financially rewarding to work in the UK was it once was. And, in case you missed it last month, a leaked Home Office document left no doubts that post-Brexit the government intends to drive down even more the number of low-skilled EU migrants in the UK.

While many will welcome this – indeed, British jobs for British people was a strong rationale in voting for Brexit amongst many – it does pose a problem for those industries that rely on low cost EU labour. This can, for example, be seen in across agriculture, particularly in soft fruits where it is estimated that 9 out of 10 seasonal pickers and packers come from the EU, primarily Poland, Bulgaria and Romania. According to a report commissioned by the British Summer Fruits trade body, if UK-based producers are forced to move their operations to countries within the EU to ensure access to labour, it is estimated the price of strawberries will rise from around £2 per 400g punnet to £2.75 – a jump of 37%. Replacing homegrown raspberries with imported fruit would see the price of a 200g punnet jump 50% from £2 to £3. Not great news for the British consumer.

However, there is an upside to all this. Earlier this year, a report by the House of Lords Economic Affairs Committee predicted that controlled EU immigration after Brexit will likely see UK firms seek to replace cheap labour with increased investment in automation and technology. And anecdotally this can be seen happening already. At the recent PPMA (Processing and Packaging Machinery Association) Show, many exhibitors identified the Brexit vote and consequent drop in the number of EU workers as a catalyst for investment in automation.

Thankfully there are innovative companies out there offering automated solutions to fill the gap. According to Brillopak director David Jahn: “Improving packing productivity and economic output per hour will be central to boosting efficiency and offsetting fresh produce price rises. With packhouses grappling with this imminent EU labour crisis, combined with rising minimum wages, many Brillopak customers are seriously exploring automated case loading systems.”

Of course, increasing automation to replace low-skilled EU workers isn’t going to help low-skilled British workers enter the labour market. However, I can’t help thinking that this was never really going to happen anyway. You only have to look at projects like the Hand Free Hectare, run by Harper Adams University and Precision Decisions, which successfully planted, tended and harvested a crop with only autonomous vehicles and drones to realise that automation, rather than workforce, will increasingly be the key to agricultural achievement in the years to come.

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Let's not wait 50 years 31/08/2017

Recently I read with interest an article by Tim Harford exploring “Why didn’t electricity immediately change manufacturing?”. In it, Harford recalls economists in the 1980s having widely held scepticism about the adoption of computerisation resulting in a positive impact on productivity levels; he likens it to the situation 100 years earlier when the then remarkable new developments involving electricity did not result in the surge in productivity that might have been expected.

In 1881, Thomas Edison, who had already invented reusable light bulbs in the late 1870s, built electricity generating stations in Manhattan and London; within a year, he was selling electricity as a commodity, and a year later, the first electric motors were driving manufacturing machinery. Yet by 1900, as Harford reports, less than 5% of mechanical drive power in American factories was coming from electric motors.

Despite the many, by then obvious, disadvantages of steam engines, very few factory owners chose to replace them with electric motors and draw clean and modern power from a nearby generating station. Looking at the reasons behind this, Harford points to the fact that unless factory owners started to think in a different way, the huge investment associated with replacing steam engines with electric motors actually produced pretty disappointing returns.

Yes, a motor could be made to slot into the old system, but it could also do so much more, delivering power exactly when and where needed. As Harford points out, steam-powered factories had to be arranged on the logic of the driveshaft; electricity meant you could organise factories on the logic of a production line.

However, it wasn’t until the 1920s that productivity levels in the US really took off, and although there were undoubtedly a great many contributing factors, economic historian Paul David gives much of the credit to the fact that manufacturers had finally figured out how to use technology that was nearly 50 years old.

Harford’s article got me thinking about today’s disruptive technologies, and whether it is possible to draw comparisons with the challenges faced by manufacturers at the end of the 19th century. Then, in order to take advantage of the electric motor, factory owners would have to completely change the production process. In contrast, today it is possible to implement the latest Industry 4.0 technologies in just a small part of the production process – effectively enabling potential users to begin with a small step. And often, just one small step can reap big benefits. That’s not to say a complete overhaul and adoption of smart technologies doesn’t have its place, it’s just that total process change is not always necessary in order to reap the benefits.

While any new, or indeed evolving, technology is always going to need adopters to start thinking in different ways, I am hopeful that we won’t have to wait nearly half a century before today’s amazing developments are fully embraced!

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Cyber security wake-up call 03/07/2017

With cases like the WannaCry ransom wear being targeted at high profile organisations including the NHS, and more recently the latest version of Petya causing permanent and irreversible damage to disks in organisations stretching from law firms in the USA to construction companies in France hitting the headlines it seems as if the proliferation of cyber attacks is on a sharp upward trajectory.

While WannaCry wasn’t specifically designed to target industrial control systems, many manufacturers were among the 230,000+ computers it infected across 150 countries, including production operations of Nissan, PetroChina and Renault. Add to this, the latest version of Petya (dubbed NotPetya  because it differed from an earlier iteration) taking out Ukraine’s power grid, railways and communications, and infecting pharma company Merck and food giant Mondelez International in the US, and the industrial sector really should be getting something of a wake-up call.

It stands to reason that, as Industry 4.0, IIoT and smart factories drive the convergence between the IT and OT parts of companies in the industrial sector, their vulnerability to cyber attack by malware intended primarily to target the business or infrastructure sectors will increase.

Plus, it’s not just ‘general’ malware that poses a risk: Perhaps an even more frightening prospect, Industroyer is the second known case of a virus built and released specifically to disrupt industrial control systems, the first being first was Stuxnet. Industroyer attacks electricity substations and circuit breakers using industrial communication protocols which are standardised across different types – from power, water and gas supply to transportation control.

A timely report from Crest, the not-for-profit accreditation body representing the technical information security industry, highlights a pressing need to improve cyber security in Industrial Control System (ICS) environments to avoid future breaches that could impact critical national infrastructure.

Its latest position paper, ‘Industrial Control Systems: Technical Security Assurance’ identifies a number of challenges and suggests that more technical security testing has a significant role to play in ensuring higher levels of security assurance are met.
Drawing on the diverse views of the Industrial Control Systems and technical security communities and the paper proposes a model for gaining greater assurance in ICS environments. It was based on the findings of a research project - which looked to set out the main challenges and possible solutions for protecting Industrial Control Systems, many of which are based on legacy technologies.

One of the key findings in the report is the absence of periodic standards-based technical security testing that is commonplace in many other industries. Because of this, asserts CREST, ICS environment owners and operators have no objective way of knowing whether cyber risk is being adequately managed and at present there is no definitive standard for testing ICS environments that is mandated by regulatory bodies. The fact that ICS environments are rapidly changing also leads to a higher degree of exposure.
“ICS environment owners require assurances that risk is being identified, assessed and evaluated. Above all else they need to know that there are appropriate measures in place to manage and mitigate risk,” says Ian Glover, president of CREST.

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Back to the future 22/05/2017

While some may argue that industry, manufacturing and technology – as covered in CDA – are not political issues (indeed, the CDA editorial team has had feedback from some readers indicating this view in no uncertain terms!), I am of the opinion that these subjects are of utmost political importance.

Indeed, in the light of the UK’s vote to leave the EU, and the current Government’s intention to also break away from the European single market, the strength of these sectors is absolutely vital if the UK is to hold its own in the global market.

Therefore, as the various political parties gave detail of their manifestos this week, I was keen to see how how these issues featured and whether there were any firm promises to be welcomed. To be honest, I think maybe I was being a bit naive in hoping for moves to strengthen the industrial sector to be at the heart of any political party’s manifesto - but I can’t help feeling a bit disappointed that there seems to be very little of substance to welcome.

Of course, one of the Labour Party’s main commitments is to renationalise mail, rail and energy firms. Perhaps depending on where you consume the majority of your news from, this could be a good or a bad thing. While much of the right wing press is bleating about a “return to the seventies”, it is worth considering that many of our European counterparts retain a strong element of public ownership in these areas and still provide a level of service that Southern Rail commuters can old dream of.

While we’re talking about rail, it should be noted tthat Britain’s rail franchises are already owned and operated by state-owned companies; it's just that they are not the home state! For example, Arriva, which runs the Welsh railways, is part of Deutche Bahn, ScotRail is in the hands of the Dutch state rail operator, Abellio, Southeastern line is 35% owned by Kelios, the French state rail operator’s international subsidiary and the Essex-operator C2c is part of Trenitalia, the Italian state rail company.

And, on a bit of tangent, let’s not forget that EDF, which supplies many a domestic property with energy, actually stands for Électricité de France, which is largely owned by the the French state.

I’m by no means saying that renationalisation is a no brainer. There’s always the danger that state owned and run industries will be less than disciplined when it comes to budgetary issues. It might even be the case that such organisations will be run in the interests of the employees rather than the consumers (although in this day and age, that does seem to be somewhat unlikely). However, the UK really should look to its European neighbours and the way in which they successfully run state-owned industries before writing off reationalisation as a purely backwards step.

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A game of catch up? 31/03/2017

I was recently privileged to attend the launch of the new All-Party Parliamentary Group on the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR). Founded and currently chaired by Conservative MP for Havant, Alan Mak, the APPG aims to support and promote the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) in Parliament, and encourage Government, Parliamentarians, academia, the private sector, and other stakeholders, to engage with 4IR-related issues.

With the Chancellor Philip Hammond as Guest of Honour, the event certainly conveyed the gravitas with which this hugely important development should be approached. And indeed, the positive and forward thinking attitude of all who spoke, along with the aims and objectives of the APPG must be praised.

There were, however, a few issues that I felt were rather conveniently avoided by all. The general message conveyed was that the UK is in a prime position to be at the forefront of the Fourth Industrial Revolution - and indeed, as one of the richest economies in the in the world, it is. However, when it comes to automation in the industrial sector (with some notable exceptions, for example automotive), the UK lags behind much of the developed world when it comes to investing in and implementing the latest technologies. If the UK is to lead Industry 4.0, this will have to change.

And then there’s the issue of whether the UK is already in a position of having to play catch up when it comes to I4.0. While there is undoubtedly a huge range of talented people in the UK working on/towards I4.0 associated technologies, it cannot be denied that many of the real trail blazers are already well-established, and that many of these companies and individuals are not in the UK! Indeed, I’ve had conversations with some in the industrial sector, who feel the UK has already missed the boat in terms of being at the fore of Industry 4.0.

In contrast, Germany is undoubtedly top of the pile when it comes to all things I4.0; indeed the German government was actually instrumental in coming up with the concept in the first place. Therefore, I was a little surprised when reading Alan Mak’s “Masters of the Revolution: Why the Fourth Industrial Revolution should be at the heart of Britain’s new Industrial Strategy” to note that both he and George Freeman, MP, were extolling the virtues of the UK no longer having to abide by “precautionary principle” post Brexit. While I appreciate this is all part of a bigger picture, Germany’s having to work in accordance with precautionary principle has by no means held the country back when it comes to I4.0. Therefore, I imagine that removing precautionary principle in the UK will make little or no difference to UK industry’s adoption and development of such enabled technology.

Of course, the launch of the APPG may not have been an appropriate time or place to consider these points. However, the fact does remain that such issues really do need to be addressed if the UK is to be competitive in an increasingly global economy.

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Trump versus automation 01/03/2017

Love him or hate him, there is no doubt that Donald Trump tapped into the hopes and fears of a large proportion of the US electorate throughout his highly divisive electoral campaign. And while so far it has been his measures to deliver on anti-immigration policies that have grabbed the headlines, it is important not to forget about the President’s promise that, despite an increasingly global economy, he is going to bring back jobs to America.

On the face of it, Trump does seem to have done just that. Ford and General Motors announced they will add or keep 700 and 7000 US jobs, respectively, thanks to new investment within the US. Amazon has plans to take on 100,000 new employees over the next 18 months and even Pizza Hut has announced plans to hire up to 11,000 workers in the near future.

There is however, a view that while Trump’s staunchly nationalistic stance on job creation and pledges of high tariffs on products sold in the U.S. but manufactured overseas have had an influence on this tranche of US investment, he cannot take all the credit. Companies don’t simply create jobs because someone tells them they should; capital allocation has to be approved and there has to be a great deal of product development before new plants can be planned, and this takes time, suggesting that these moves were in the pipeline way back when the idea that Trump would become President was little more than a dystopian episode of The Simpsons.

Then there’s the matter of automation; something that Trump seems to steadfastly ignore in his plans to “make America great again”. In his farewell speech Obama acknowledged the impact that increased automation is likely to have on traditional American blue-collar careers, asserting, “the next wave of economic dislocation won’t come from overseas. It will come from the relentless pace of automation that makes many good, middle-class jobs obsolete”. In contrast, Trump doesn’t seem to have shown any inclination to address the issue at all, despite evidence that it has already undermined the decision by United Technologies not to move some 800 jobs in its Carrier arm from Indianapolis to Mexico - one of the few instances where it really did seem to be criticism from Trump that was the deciding factor in sticking to investment the US.

Rather than invest in Mexico, the company stuck with its US production facility, but decided to implement more automation as a way to cut costs. "We're going to make up the $16 million investment in that factory in Indianapolis to automate, to drive the cost down so that we can continue to be competitive," chief executive Greg Hayes is reported to have said. "What that ultimately means is there will be fewer jobs."

And therein lies a problem, not just for Trump’s America, but for economies worldwide; in order for companies to remain competitive they need to improve productivity, and the simplest way to improve productivity is to increase automation, and this is only ever going have detrimental effect on the blue-collar job sector.

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Wake up & smell the connectivity 11/01/2017

Industry 4.0, IIoT, Smart manufacturing, call it what you will, but it would seem that the age of the 4th Industrial revolution is well and truly upon us, at least in theory, if not practise, and as CDA enters its fifth year of publishing I can say that it is the overarching development to have dominated the market place since the magazine’s launch.

Industry 4.0, IIoT, Smart manufacturing, call it what you will, but it would seem that the age of the 4th Industrial revolution is well and truly upon us, at least in theory, if not practice, and as CDA enters its fifth year of publishing I can say that it is the overarching development to have dominated the market place since the magazine’s launch.

In same way that many different terms are used for 4IR, if you ask five people what they think is meant by the term, the chances are that you will get five different answers, which in many cases will reflect the vested business interests of the person giving the description. Understandably, this has lead to a degree of confusion  amongst some UK companies that could in fact benefit from implementing 4IR. Rather than embracing the developments, people are frustrated at what they perceive as a lack of clarity around what the concept actually is and some are naturally reticent to invest in something they don’t fully understand.

While my own personal idea of what 4IR means is probably as subjective, and indeed ambiguous, as the next person’s, one thing that I can be clear on is that if the UK industrial sector fails to uptake the latest developments, large swaths of it are in danger of being left behind in the global market. And as the UK will undoubtedly need to compete to an even great extent on the global market once it exits the EU, this is of vital importance.

In its recent report, The 4th Industrial Revolution: a primer for manufacturers, EEF The Manufacturer’s Association points to research showing that just 42% of companies surveyed felt that they are “familiar with the concept of the 4th industrial revolution” and a only a worrying 11% think the UK manufacturing sector is geared up to take advantage of 4IR.

Elsewhere analysis carried out by The Boston Consulting Group indicates that in Germany Industry 4.0 will be embraced, boosting productivity across all German manufacturing sectors by €90 billion to €150 billion. Productivity improvements on conversion costs, which exclude the cost of materials, will range from 15 to 25 percent. When the materials costs are factored in, productivity gains of 5 to 8 percent are expected. And let’s face it, who couldn’t do with that kind of increased productivity.

While CDA has always regularly covered 4IR and its associated technologies, from now on the magazine will feature a regular section dedicated to IIoT and Smart Technology, reflecting the increasing importance of the development. So if you are keen to find out more, make sure you check it out.

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On-site hero 11/10/2016

One of the many facets of Industry 4.0 and the ever-increasing levels of connectivity possible is that today’s technology can be used give engineers remote access to the sites and equipment they are responsible for.

We see nifty promotional videos of experienced engineers who are otherwise engaged (fishing seems to be a favoured pastime amongst the demographic), being swiftly and easily contacted, casting their eye over the available data or even a video of the process in question – all of which conveniently pops up on their ever present tablet – and solving the problem from anywhere in the world.

For any company with multiple or remote sites, this is an attractive proposition; experienced engineers do not have to spend time travelling to various sites and in theory, less people could cover more sites. The model could also help ease the shortfall of engineers being widely experienced, as well as saving money through increased efficiencies.

However, listening to the news this week about how Russian hackers allegedly carried out a powerful cyber attack against French television network, TV5Monde, got me thinking about whether operating remote engineers is such a great way of doing things after all.

Although this cyber attack did not take place in the industrial sector, it could easily have, with highly targeted malicious software being used to destroy TV5’s network systems.

Yves Bigot, director-general of TV5Monde, told the BBC: "We were a couple of hours from having the whole station gone for good."

What ensued was effectively a race against time, as more systems were infected with each passing minute. According to the BBC any substantial delay would have led satellite distribution channels to cancel their contracts, placing the entire company in jeopardy.

So what, or who, was the hero of the hour? It was the engineers, or course. And not remote engineers, but engineers who were on site. The cyber attack took place on the same day the network had launched its latest channel, which meant the technicians were on site.

"We were saved from total destruction by the fact we had launched the channel that day and the technicians were there," said Bigot.

"One of them was able to locate the very machine where the attack was taking place and he was able to cut out this machine from the internet and it stopped the attack.

"We owe a lot to the engineer who unplugged that particular machine. He is a hero here.”

What would have happened if the engineer hadn’t been on site? Who knows? As it was, TV5 had to wait months before being reconnected to the internet, forcing staff to resort to using fax machines as they couldn’t email.

So while the idea of remote engineering sounds good in principle, when it comes down to real life situations, in many cases you really can’t beat an engineer being there on-site.

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Charlotte Stonestreet is an experienced b2b editor and has worked across a range of industrial titles including Handling & Storage Solutions, Factory Equipment and Materials Handling News.

She has also contributed to the 'Energy Procurement essential guide to excellence'.

Having gained a degree in English with Media Studies, Charlotte started out her publishing career on a voluntary basis, producing a newsletter for Mencap.