Securing Your Intellectual Property

Protecting intellectual property is very important for many organizations, it is also the main target for hackers. Steps need to be taken in practically every part of the organization to make sure the intellectual property is secure.

As U.S. manufacturers once again grapple with outsourcing production to foreign facilities, issues with intellectual property protection begin to arise. Intellectual properties provide companies with a competitive advantage, making them incredibly valuable. Not only does it include patentable property but also the know-how involved in making the products.

The intellectual property for making your product goes beyond the components or ingredients used to make it, setpoints, durations, tolerances, and the best order for performing all steps are also included. When these are strewn about as printed work instructions, they become easier to steal. Conversely, when automated, steps may be hidden from the operator making theft more difficult. However, an electronic-encoded intellectual property can still be hacked. So, using multi-layer security can be used to thwart such attacks. Multi-layer security should include all—or most—of network security, device security, application security, and encryption.

An intellectual property can also be stolen or compromised when plant operations modify product methods and procedures. Products of inferior quality or products unsafe for consumer use steal value from the intellectual property by devaluing the product brand. Automation is combined with logging all system activities to guard against this form of intellectual property theft. Some systems allow playback of system operations through the human-machine interface. Some implement automated notification when an operator varies a procedure in any manner. Both are powerful tools to protect the intellectual property value and train operators to take appropriate actions.

Another form of intellectual property theft involves modification by unauthorized individuals. Owners can protect the source files from which work instructions are printed with file level security although, they cannot, as described above, ensure that the procedures are fastidiously followed. Individuals authorized to modify a programmable logic controller, programmable automation controller, or distributed control system programming may or may not comprehend how a programming “fix” can affect intellectual property.

The effects of a change may not be immediately noticed, but during this time hundreds of thousands of dollars of inferior or unsafe product contaminates downstream equipment and inventory or is packaged and warehoused or shipped. Best-in-class systems not only provide access security, they implement version management and roll-back for quick recovery. When an intellectual property is programmed into the control system, such rollback is not possible without additional software and may be cumbersome to use in that it restores an entire program, not just the specific procedure.

Should a plant be ravaged by disease, as we see happening these days, highly automated systems can continue to produce quality products even when staffed with less skilled, temporary, operators. Intellectual properties managed by a secure procedure manager could save millions in lost production and bad publicity as recently experienced by several meat packaging facilities. Obviously, certain products and procedures lend themselves better to automation, but disaster is indiscriminate.

Best-in-class automation—including best in class procedure management—combats all these threats to intellectual property, the value of the intellectual property, and use of it. Capable control systems integrators can help you secure your intellectual property from theft, damage, and more.

This is a re-post of a June 2020 Automation World blog. To see the original piece, click HERE.

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The Benefits of Off-The-Shelf SOP Management Software

Being able to keep track of every step and every bit of data is a major necessity for every organization. An off-the-shelf standard operating procedure software is one way to implement new processes and keep track of business operating standards.

Tracking manual operations in discrete, batch, and continuous manufacturing processes can greatly benefit from off-the-shelf products. Clearly specifying your procedures, enforcing their execution, and capturing pertinent data are all major benefits that can be quickly and easily be obtained by implementing off-the-shelf, procedure management software.

To ensure consistency, manufacturers use Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) to specify how operations are to be done. SOPs may be developed for product operations, safety, periodic maintenance, startup or shutdown operations.

Often, discrete manufacturing processes require a high level of manual operator activities that rely on paper-based SOPs to specify how to manufacture their products.

It is the responsibility of employees to perform the tasks specified in the SOP and to capture any required data. Even in relatively automated process control systems, it is not uncommon to find SOPs that require an operator to input the setpoints or record readings before initiating the required tasks. Sometimes data is recorded on the SOP or a related paper form, but, oftentimes the date and employee identification is required.

As the volume of amount of data and the value of accuracy increases, as does the justification for automating the SOP and data collection.

Standard, off-the-shelf products can be used to replace the paper-based SOPs and electronically interface with the operators via portable devices such as phones, iPads, industrial portable terminals, etc. One such product is Rockwell Automation’s FactoryTalk Batch.

The unfortunate name of the product implies that it is only helpful with batch manufacturing processes, but, in fact, it is very helpful automating any operation where following an ordered set of steps and collecting data is required. FactoryTalk Batch is really a sequencing engine that follows the steps of an operating procedure or recipe.

The operating procedures are clearly specified electronically. A sequencing engine is responsible for prompting the operator to perform the tasks in the order specified by the electronic SOP. Off-the-shelf sequencing engines contain features that streamline the process of following the SOP and recording required data. Many sequencing engines, including FactoryTalk Batch, can transfer required set points to the process control system as well as directly capture process information without relying on the operators. In partially automated processes, data collected from operators via electronic forms can be merged with automatically collected data.

The sequencing engine is now the orchestrator of the process activities and is responsible for interacting with the operator, to instruct them to perform manual tasks and capturing information not available electronically; at the same time, it coordinates all activities with the equipment it can interact with.

This off-the-shelf sequencing engine can be interfaced with the enterprise-resource planning system in order to receive production orders, it clearly specifies and maintains SOPs and their versioning, it coordinates all manual and automated procedural activities, and it captures all pertinent information to recall how a product was made including material traceability.

Fixed industrial human-machine interface products or mobile devices can be used for operator interaction.

Clients see return through increased product yields and improved overall equipment effectiveness. An ISO-9001 certified client realized tremendous benefit in reduced labor costs. Being able to use an off-the-shelf package, significantly reduces implementation cost and schedule. Perhaps you can benefit too.

This is a re-post from a March 2020 Automation World blog. To see the original post, click HERE.

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