Manufacturing is the core driver of economic growth in many countries across the world, including the Asia-Pacific region. In my home country of South Korea, it accounts for 27.7% of the GDP. In China, often referred to as “the world’s factory,” the number is 27%, while in the six largest economies of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), the contribution stands at around 21%.

Given the importance of the sector, various stakeholders have been looking at how they can continue to sustain this growth. The consensus is that the sector needs to embrace the Fourth Industrial Revolution (a.k.a. 4IR or Industry 4.0) and leverage it to realize gains in productivity and unlock additional revenue streams through new products and quality improvements.

The Journey to the Fourth Industrial Revolution

The 4IR is characterized by an intelligent and connected ecosystem of people and machines, underpinned by five key technologies being used across the manufacturing value chain, including:

  • Internet of Things (IoT)
  • Artificial Intelligence (AI)
  • 3D Printing
  • Advanced Robotics
  • Wearables

While there is no doubt about the need to leverage these technologies and the 4IR, the main challenge that manufacturers face is understanding how to accelerate the implementation in a structured manner, and how they can create the most value through this adoption. This is true for manufacturers across all industry sectors, regardless of their digital maturity.

Long-term goals versus short-term gains

To address this, manufacturers must devise a strategy that focuses on leveraging some of these technologies to address immediate challenges, while continuing to focus on a broader long-term goal of digital transformation of key operations and processes for more sustainable future growth.

While this may sound tricky, they can balance these two by focusing on these key aspects:

  1. Critical pain points

    It is very easy to get caught in the hype surrounding new technologies and rush to adopt them. The risk with such an approach is that one can find themself force fitting a technology into the existing infrastructure. This can be counterproductive. The right approach is to first collect data on, and better understand, the critical issues and pain points across the business and which of these needs to be addressed on a high priority.

  2. Right technology use cases and partners

    Once an issue had been identified, the next step should be to look at potential technologies that can help address these, their level of maturity, adoption, and success. Additionally, it is critical that manufacturers engage with the right vendors and explore developing joint solutions, understand financial commitments, and how they should gauge the return on investment.

  3. Reliable and Scalable Infrastructure

    The successful adoption of the 4IR technologies is dependent on underlying connectivity. The ability to reliably connected people and devices, and to scale it as needed, is critical. The sophistication of this infrastructure can vary depending on the industry as well as use cases. However, any underlying infrastructure should have some key attributes. Firstly, it should be reliable. This means the ability to operate it in various conditions, be that inside a controlled manufacturing floor, or in an outdoor location with extreme weather conditions. Second, you should be able to scale it up with ease, which means having the ability to implement rules-based configurations across various sites while having control over network access.

Security is Foundational 

As manufacturers adopt the 4IR and related technologies, there will be a convergence of their Information Technology (IT) and Operational Technology (OT) infrastructure. While this opens new opportunities for manufacturers, it has also created a ripe and readily available attack surface, introducing exponentially greater risks of cyber attacks on critical operational infrastructure, which can cause great harm.

As such, it requires a highly resilient and comprehensive security architecture that can help safeguard against potential threats and attacks. At Cisco, we recommend an integrated security strategy – from the endpoint, to the network, and to the cloud – to reduce complexity and increase effectiveness.

Building Your Security Foundation

For any business, being ready from a cybersecurity perspective ultimately boils down to being able to protect their environment before, during, and after an attack. It is important to realize that no safeguards are invulnerable and breaches are inevitable. So, being able to detect the breach, neutralize the risk and return to normal operations as fast as possible is a critical part of the overall cybersecurity strategy.

The most important considerations for addressing security in the manufacturing space are:

  1. Visibility

    You need to know what is connected to your industrial network, what devices are talking to each other and effectively, what information and data are they relaying. With proper visibility you can inspect traffic and even implement machine learning of the traffic to allow you to quickly identify and address any abnormal or suspect activity.

  2. Segmentation

    Once you have that visibility, you need to define and enforce the proper segmentation of that traffic to minimize the impact of any successful breach. For example, if a hacker was able to successfully breach a security camera in the carpark of your facility, there should be additional controls that prevent the hacker from being able to penetrate the overall network and target any machines on the production floor, or the servers to access sensitive data. This will help contain the impact of any potential breaches.

  3. Policy/Access

    Lastly, it is important to set-up the right access privileges for employees, contractors, and vendors for accessing the industrial network and the internet from within the manufacturing plant and when logging in from a remote site. This access enforcement needs to be context-aware, comprehensive, seamless, and easy to use. If a machine is down, there must be a fast way to get that vendor quick remote access to their equipment, if not, people will bypass the policy with high-risk solutions.

Final Thoughts

When putting in place an industrial security strategy, it is important to recognize that there is no “one size fits all”. You cannot strap-on your security like body-armor. Therefore it is critical that you work with a vendor that has an understanding of not just security solutions but the overall underlying IT infrastructure.

You need an in-depth strategy that builds security in at every level. Every aspect of your infrastructure needs to work in unison to protect your environment, without affecting operations and efficiency. At Cisco, we work with our customers to deploy technology that helps reduce risks across all traffic – both unencrypted and encrypted – by helping customers understand how, when, where, and why users and devices connect to their network.

That, we believe, is the foundation on which the success of the fourth industrial revolution will be built on.

Want to learn more about the future of manufacturing?
Watch our keynote “Industrial Pioneers Bosch and Estée Lauder Discuss Industry 4.0 and What’s Ahead” featured during Hannover Messe Digital 2021, now available on-demand.


Bum Coo Cho

Vice President

Cisco Korea Sales