Cisco Manufacturing Leaders

Managed or unmanaged switches? Exploring the benefits of network automation

October 29, 2019 Cisco Manufacturing Leaders Season 1 Episode 5
Cisco Manufacturing Leaders
Managed or unmanaged switches? Exploring the benefits of network automation
Chapters
Cisco Manufacturing Leaders
Managed or unmanaged switches? Exploring the benefits of network automation
Oct 29, 2019 Season 1 Episode 5
Cisco Manufacturing Leaders

Visit our website >
Read this episode's blog >

  • Discover how network automation can save time, improve worker safety, and protect against malicious cyber attacks.
  • Learn the basic requirements for enabling network automation, including the pros and cons of managed and unmanaged switches, 
  • Hear unique perspectives from both IT and operations on the common challenges and concerns with industrial network management


Show Notes Transcript

Visit our website >
Read this episode's blog >

  • Discover how network automation can save time, improve worker safety, and protect against malicious cyber attacks.
  • Learn the basic requirements for enabling network automation, including the pros and cons of managed and unmanaged switches, 
  • Hear unique perspectives from both IT and operations on the common challenges and concerns with industrial network management


Speaker 1:

Hi everyone. Thank you for joining us today on Cisco's manufacturing leaders. This podcast is presented by Cisco and I'm your host, Caroline Hila. Cisco's manufacturing leaders is designed to help those involved in the manufacturing industry make better decisions for their business. My goal is to bring you the best industry knowledge and expertise that's available to help you understand the latest trends, best practices, and more. Most importantly, I want to help you solve your unique problems and find new ways to gain a competitive edge. Welcome to Cisco's manufacturing leaders.

Speaker 2:

Today's episode is called managed or unmanaged switches. Exploring the benefits of network automation. We'll learn how automating your network saves you time and money, improves worker safety and protects your systems from cyber attacks. We'll also discuss the basic requirements for enabling automation, including the pros and cons of managing unmanned switches in the differing views on network management from the perspectives of it and operations. So why does network automation matters so much in this industry? It's really because manufacturing isn't just about making things anymore, and this is nothing new. We all already know this, how things were different in the past where producers would make items, pass them to distributors and share a percentage of the profits without even having to bother with customer needs because it was simply the distributors in partner's responsibility and we've all seen and experienced how much the role of the customer in manufacturing has changed. You know, the half life of successful products is shrinking, the rate of change is accelerating, and majority of all this is really due to the increasing complexity and quickly changing customer demands. And the reason I'm bringing all of this up is because everything we're about to discuss revolves around your ability to change. So as we dive into the questions with our guests, I really want you to think about the changes that you make on a regular basis, specific to your production cycles. Ask yourself what kind of changes are your customers requesting, how often do you need to make adjustments to your machinery and equipment to accommodate these changes? And with that, I'd like to welcome our guest today, Dave Grunberger. Dave is an infrastructure solutions architect here at Cisco and he specializes in integrating operational technology networks and services with enterprise it services to meet business objectives. So to start off, can you first describe what network automation is and why it's important to manufacturing today?

Speaker 3:

Okay. So network automation is we're automating the network itself, changes in the network characteristics of the network can be applied using automation. And what's sort of ironic about this is that we don't do it and have not really started to do it in networks today. Even though those networks, their sole purpose is to support automation PLCs that build a variety of different products. The IO that they connect to, all of that is using ladder logic, function blocks and other tools that take a repetitive step and, and allow you to do it over and over and over again with machinery , uh , so that a human doesn't have to hurt themselves, which often really does happen when we used to do these things manually, you know, really allows the process to happen in a repetitive way where we have the same characteristic in networks, right? We change IP addresses. We changed security, we move V lands, we create new V lands. And the thing is is we're not doing it on just one switch or one router. We're doing it usually, and especially in a manufacturing plant on several. And that could several, could be 20, it could be a hundred, it can be as many as a thousand. And so when you do that kind of thing on a repetitive basis, it can be extraordinarily time consuming. If you try to do that a few at a time, one at a time. And the ability to be able to apply a change on such a large set of devices in a matter of minutes by using automation to reach out to each of these devices, change that configuration and bring them back online as is a pretty phenomenal step that we can now put in networks.

Speaker 2:

Yeah . So what is the motivation behind the plant to make these changes? What are they trying to accomplish?

Speaker 3:

Well, very often products that they make are modified over time. It can be a product recall. It can be a , uh, a product, a change of version change to the product itself. And when they do that, sometimes what happens is the sequence of assembly gets effected . Um, and when you change the sequence of assembly, you have to sometimes move equipment. You , you know, you may take a line that's where the stations are 10 feet apart and you mean may need to insert some new stations to where they're only five feet apart and all the equipment that's related to those stations then has to be moved. And so you have to connect it to power, you have to connect it to the network. And so what we're recommending is people start to build grids over the top of their manufacturing environment. And in doing that, they can just simply run a cable up, plug it in, and then using the network automation, I can automatically detect the change, apply the necessary configuration differences and bring that port online very, very quickly rather than have to manually adjust for the five or 10 new stations that I've added to the line.

Speaker 2:

Yeah. That. No, that makes a lot of sense. It seems that would save a lot of time. And so how does this automation make these changes easier? Like can you kind of give an example of maybe a story if you are going to move a machine from one station to the other, what that would look like if you had that automation in place and how that would make it a lot easier.

Speaker 3:

Sure. So , um, at the risk of too much detail, I would, for example, if I want to move a robot, I would have to come out there with a forklift truck or some kind of a Dolly that allows me to lift the robot physically in order to reposition it. And that repositioning could be a few inches, it could be several feet. Um, and , uh, when I do that, of course I have to then make these connections because an average robot has about six to six to 10 ethernet connections between the robot controller, the end effector, the end effector controller , uh, and an effector for that , for the purposes of the [inaudible] to make sure everybody's aware is like, it's a welding head or it's a a screw type something that screws things together. It's, it's the actual tool that sits at the end of the robot arm. And so it has its own connectivity. The robot has its connectivity and so forth. And so when you have to then move that thing, you've got to reconnect all of those different ethernet connections. And to do that , um, you know, you'd, if you had to do it manually, you have to get on a ladder and to get up on a ladder in a factory, you're going to have one person on the ground holding in the ladder, another person on the ground, you know, holding the ladder in position. You're going to have the person up on the ladder who then has to take a laptop or something, open a cabinet , uh, plug it in and then manually reconfigure the switch. Well, they could be a safety concern. It is. It frankly, it very much is. And so we may not be able to eliminate climbing up the ladder to move the cable, but what we can certainly do is make sure that the only thing they have to do is plug in the cable and then they can get down. So in other words, taking something that might take 30 minutes or 45 minutes to do, we bring it back to say 15 minutes or 10 minutes so that I get the ladder up by climb up, by plugging the cable, I get back down off the ladder and I'm done. So you've cleared . And so therefore you get the safety hazard cleared out very quickly by comparison to what it would normally be if I'm up there for 20 or 30 minutes trying to, you know, manipulate the configuration of the network while meanwhile on the top of the ladder too . Right, exactly. Yeah. So what would happen then, let's say for example, if wanted your switch breaks, is having an automated network helpful in this scenario? Yeah, absolutely. Uh , for example, what can happen is, as I said before, you know, whether you're using a cherry picker or any other kind of device or, or actually a ladder as we just described, you really want to speed that up. So being able to simply get up there, unscrew the switch, move the cables to a new switch, screw that back together, and then power it up and you're done from that perspective. And the switch would then go off and find its configuration and their technologies to allow that to happen , uh , and help that happen and then have the configuration pushed into it as a part of this automated process, simplifies and speeds up greatly speeds up the replacement of that switch. So that if it took 10 minutes before, you're talking a couple of minutes now. Right.

Speaker 2:

Wow. Yeah, that's a big difference. Are there any other challenges you think that manufacturers have to deal with on a regular basis that they could solve with this automation?

Speaker 3:

Uh , sure. For example, security's a big deal, right? We've had customers that have been attacked by various forms of malware. Their factories have gone offline. And in one case, I know of a customer that they literally ran around the building, pulling cables, physically pulling cables out of switches and hosts systems to prevent the propagation of that, of that malware. And if I had the ability to detect a malware condition and then have an automated program go out and go out and start shutting off ports that way so that the contamination that would otherwise come in gets blocked. And I can certainly do that a lot faster than running around the building ganking cables out apart. They literally ran around the building and like rip, it's not a joke, it's not a joke. And in fact, in one with one customer , uh , we used to have , uh , literally we called it a red cable disconnect if something bad really happened, the connection from the network in the plant to the outside world was an literally a red cable that went to the telephone companies, D Mark for service. And so in a really bad condition where there was an attack or some kind of a malfunction that had to be , uh , eliminated. Yeah , they would walk up to that cable and unplug it. Wow. All right. And that was for there for the sole purposes of protecting the building from a malware attack. You know, and it depends on where the attack happens and you know, if it's already in your building, because a lot of these things come into the building by way of like a USB stick or some, some technicians computer from the outside. So you may not have the luxury of having a single point of disconnect. You may have to start disconnecting things inside your building. And it can be very confusing when you sit there and go, Oh, I don't know where this thing is. I don't know what to do. Um, and so you start mass mass disconnections. Well, if I can basically have the network, for lack of a better description, turn itself off, it immediately stops the propagation of the, of the malware.

Speaker 2:

Yeah, that's a great call out. And I'm also curious to understand how you see network automation playing a role in manufacturers abilities to fulfill their customer's needs. You know, with product life cycles becoming even shorter and mass customization needs increasing. Can you tell us a little bit about your perspective on that?

Speaker 3:

Um, I guess the thing I want to be clear about, if I'm making one change in place one time automation doesn't really help you very much. The issue is, is that change kind of more global in nature. So is it, you know, an entire production line or a big chunk of a production line where you're , you would otherwise spend a lot of hours going from switch to switch to switch doing the same change. That's where the automation comes in and that's where it helps you because it can reach into that equipment, look at the config , uh , make the adjustments accordingly and apply them right away. Or you can schedule it. You can say, well wait, I'm going to go out and apply the config changes, but I don't want to do them until shift change this evening. And so I program it to not make the change effective. And so for example, let's say shift changes at four 30 and I have a 30 minute window as people rotate through, through as a part of that change, well I can go in there and if I, if my change only takes 30 minutes across a hundred devices because I'm doing them all at the same time across the network, I can schedule it. And that way I don't have, I'm not disrupting anything and I'm still getting the change applied. And because if you compare the amount of time it would be to do it manually versus doing it in a 30 minute window between shift changes, it's a whole order of magnitude of effectiveness for the teams to apply. Necessary changes. They don't have to wait for Saturday. They don't necessarily have to wait for a change control. Um, you know, and , and, and manufacturing is, is pretty expensive stuff. Even when I schedule a change control window, it, you know, so let's say for example, the cost of my manufacturing is, is , uh , I'll just make arbitrary numbers up $15,000 a minute. But if I schedule a change and because of the preparation that goes into it and the people won't be coming in to work and all this other stuff that'll happen, let's say it's on a Sunday, you know, that might come down to $1,500 a minute. Okay. So that's a lot. That's a lot less expensive. But now if I can apply the change during a shift change, because I can do it inside of the window , uh , that while that event is occurring, I then save myself and my costs almost comes to zero. And the other, I think the other real benefit is in the changing workforce, right? We have of law , you know, the electricians and millwrights today, very, very, very smart people. Uh , lots of skill there. And the challenges, it's all in their head. Okay . And it's, it's not that easy to get the knowledge that an individual possesses and move it to another individual that might take over for them as they retire. And then we have the challenge of, you know, manufacturing's just not cool in, or at least it's so, it seems, think it's really cool, but people don't appreciate, Oh , you know, kind of the technology and the skill and so how do we get work, you know, repetitive work that these people do and know how to do extremely well in a reposition it so that new people can come in that don't have all that knowledge but still accomplish the work that they need. And that's where, you know, automation as an assistive tool to them can really make a difference.

Speaker 2:

Yeah, that's a great point. Especially with the skills gap being one of the most, you know, pressing challenges right now in the industry. So now that we've had a chance to understand the benefits of network automation, can you walk through the necessary steps and any prerequisites for really making this a reality?

Speaker 3:

Well, I think one of the things that listeners need to understand is you don't make the jump to Lightspeed overnight, right? Um, it, you really have to do some preparation. So the real question is, for example, to start with, do you , is your environment made up of unmanaged switches, cheap, inexpensive devices? Well, if they are, you can automate them. Now the argument is they're really easy to replace. But the other argument is the contract, a counter argument is they don't tell you anything. So if something's broken, they don't provide any diagnostic information and you can't really get any information out of them , uh, uh, to do any diagnosis. So it becomes a real , uh , trial and error process, for example, to do repairs. Whereas if you're getting telemetry off the switch , um, or the router or the device, whatever it is, if you're getting telemetry off of it, then you can make some evaluations. And this is where the , uh , change in , uh, personnel that I just mentioned is people retire out in their knowledge, goes away and, and all of this kind of stuff, it, you can kind of instead try to institutionalize the knowledge into workflows. Okay. And so to do that and have the workflow be effective, you're , you're , you have to start out with a well connected network. And so you really need to look at the network, how it's what it's made up of and it and what we're starting to see as a realization in the market that I , you know, stupid equipment is not smart for us to have. And so what you want to do is make your equipment smart so there has to be an investment. Once you start making that investment in equipment that can be managed, that can be automated, then you take a look at your workflows and your processes and look at, well what can I automate? What's cost effective to automate? What's not cost effective to automate? What do I leave as a manual process? And then you start making the investments in the network. To do that, you want to look at the switches that connect to the machinery. You want to look at the switches that are overhead of your processes in the steel and and make sure that you have a program to upgrade those devices appropriately. Then the other thing is, you know, controls engineers or programmers just like the, you know, programmers in it and you need to get them warmed up to things like Python for example, as a language that they would then use to configure these automated processes on the switches. And so, you know, getting from, from where they are to where they need to be, it's going to take a little bit of time and investment, a change in equipment and some training and then the evaluation of processes and workflows. And once they get that done and they instantiate those processes and workflows in Python applications, which become the program and the automation, then they're going to start to see the real benefit of being able to move very, very quickly and be much more agile on the production floor. And because the reality of it is, well, you know, most manufacturing people will kind of Dodge the question of why they need to make this change. And they'll say, well, we haven't changed our planting 20 years or 15 years or whatever. Well, they don't do it in a wholesale way. They don't do it in a wholesale way, but they do it incrementally once a month, something changes in that plant once a month, a couple times a month where they add stations, take stations away. Um, they have a product recall, as I said at the very beginning of the broadcast, they have an event which causes them to make a change on their production line. And so no. Are there really big changes? No. Those do only happen once every five, 10, 15 years, little changes every month at least. And so that's what we're after is helping them with the little changes because those are the ones that can kill you. I think that's really interesting. And one thing that you brought up , um, kind of the elephant in the room here. Sure. What in the world that keeps manufacturers from moving over to manage switches? Like what is holding them back and keeping them from just being able to finally let go of those unmanaged switches? Well, certainly the economics, the cost, right? Everybody wants to be able to avoid spending money. Particular , any business wants to just doesn't want to spend money. If they can get away with it. And so what ends up happening is you get this mentality of running to failure. I'll fix it when it breaks. The problem is when you, if you wait until something breaks, your cost of repair is astronomically higher than having taken a thoughtful programmatic approach to changing it over time. Okay. And , and so they think that they're saving money, but actually they're inducing remarkable cost . The other that's reality on the ground is politics, right? This , uh, the it OT divide, they think that if they're going to end up with managed switches, then the it department's gonna take over. Well, a managed switch by definition does not have to be managed by it. Okay. It can be managed by whoever needs to manage it. And so this a management decision, this political decision is oftentimes used as an excuse to avoid making the change, right? So , uh , my experience is if you make money for the company, you're in charge. Uh, you know, it costs the company money. Manufacturing makes the company money. So I, I would think that in many cases, the manufacturing guys are going to win. And they need to understand that a good solid partnership with it is to their best interest. But that doesn't mean they have to cede control. Okay . And, and, and so those are the kinds of artificial barriers that keep this change from happening. Um, whereas you know, the actual benefit of, of this. And the other thing too, right, is if I want to start collecting information off of my equipment, going back to the people retiring, you know, those are folks that they set their hand on a machine, feel the vibration and go, this thing's going to break in a week. Okay, that's crazy. But it's true. It's really true. It's phenomenal. You know , because there's a harmonic inside of factories, you walk in and you hear all this noise and these people have been walking in the same building for 25, 30 years. And if it doesn't sound right, they're going to hear it. When that institutional knowledge leaves and nobody recognizes the sound change, nobody recognizes the vibration change, right? So what do you do? Acoustic sensors? That's kind of, that would be interesting, but, but vibration sensors, pressure sensors, turbidity sensors. To look at coolant, things like that. When you instrument it, it goes back to what I said before, you have to have a well connected network and you want that well-connected network to be in a position to be able to dynamically change, to pick up additional information if it needs to. So if I add some sensors for a particular reason, I need to be able to easily change that environment, that switch to connect to those devices to pick up the information that it's going to provide me and then get it to the system that will evaluate. And so those that , those are the kinds of things that, you know, really I think people have to consider when they sit there and say, well, I'm not spending the money on new switches. Minor, minor, fine. Okay. Does your management want to know how efficient your plan is? How, what's your yield? You know, what's your, what's your adherence to your schedule, your production schedule and why did it break? Right. Well, I don't know why it broke. What broke because it got too hot and a bearing failed. Well, how come you didn't know that? Well because we couldn't, we don't know what the temperature, the thing is, and it just got hot. Well, that's where people put temperature sensors in vibration sensors in, and all of a sudden they can see a trend. They go, Oh crap, this thing's gonna break in a week.

Speaker 1:

If you have a question for Dave about anything covered on today's episode, post your question in the comment section of this episodes blog. Thank you again for listening to Cisco manufacturing leaders.