How Is Secure Remote Access Transforming manufacturing?

The collaboration between Advantech and Secomea illustrates the benefits that secure remote access delivers for remote maintenance users. Remote applications provide corrective, preventative, and predictive maintenance to address all aspects of remote machine servicing and productivity improvement.

As an example, an OEM supplies a production machine with mechanics, sensors, PLCs and operator panels (HMI). Also, the OEM provides active maintenance of the machine through a service agreement. In this case, the machine uses a SCADA-like monitoring system that may also exist in the factory. It also uses an IoT gateway for sending data to the cloud and returning production issues and alerts to the operator.

In the event of a problem that the operator cannot immediately fix, they contact the machine provider’s helpdesk. If this does not resolve it, escalating the case to the OEMs engineering team allows specialists to remotely access the PLC for further troubleshooting. By identifying issues in this way, instructing the operator on corrective actions avoids the need for a site visit.

Furthermore, identifying trends from the collected data helps to optimise the machine either via adjustments or retrofitting. As the OEM acquires similar data from other installed machines, users can enjoy the benefits of machine optimisations and updates.

Secure remote access

Security is essential to retain the integrity of remote access. Cybersecurity is a growing concern and crucial for any remote access arrangement. Secure remote access to industrial site and equipment is the cornerstone of Secomea’s business model. In addition to conventional security measures of authentication and encryption, Secomea has a special focus on ease of use. They believe that making things simple reduces the risk of human errors and potential security breaches.

Also, a cybersecurity consulting company (ProtectEM) makes regular audits of the Secomea solution. The solution has recently undergone a major Industry 4.0 compliance audit performed by ProtectEM. This ensures the solution is suitable as an Industry 4.0 enabler for even the most complex supplier of factory installations. As a result, several leading automation makers integrate the Secomea software solution in their products.

The Advantech/Secomea Solution

This consists of three major components, the most visible of which is the IoT gateway, called Site Manager by Secomea. Secomea has refined this concept to be applicable both as software and hardware installations. Installing the software version on different physical platforms turns these into IoT gateways. The Advantech Uno series is the perfect platform for running the Secomea Site Manager and comes pre-installed with it. Site Manager delivers both remote corrective maintenance and preventive maintenance for production monitoring and control.

Access for performing corrective secure remote connections is through Link Manager. Link Manager is a Windows-based VPN client application providing a list of all devices available to the user account. It supports the local engineer in the same way as an on-site support engineer. Access agents in the IoT gateway and managed in the central interim server make it more secure than a regular VPN. Link Manager Mobile is a lightweight link menu operated from a browser. It is useful for making secure connections to a web interface or an operator panel via the PLC.

M2M server gate manager

The central component of the Secomea remote maintenance solution is the M2M server Gate Manager. It acts as a fleet manager for all Secomea IoT gateways and provides role-based user access management. It allows users to define fine-grained access to equipment. For example, one remote access for PLC for programming, with another for accessing its web interface. Both administrators and remote access users use the Gate Manager’s intuitive web interface to access the system.

Importantly, Gate Manager encrypts all the connections and ensures that IoT gateways are not exposed to the Internet. Users can also secure Gate Manager behind corporate firewalls if needed. The creation of a new customer is often on a cloud version of the gate manager. But users also have the option of installing their private gate manager.

Getting started with the solution is a simple process and takes less than 15 minutes. The Site Manager is often pre-installed in the Advantech UNO box or other platforms. There is also a starter pack containing everything needed to get your secure remote access installation online. There are no running costs, so besides being secure, it is simple to use and very cost-effective.

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