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Remote access in general refers to a user connecting to a network or equipment from outside the company by means of the Internet. In a (business) office environment this would be e.g. the IT department remotely connecting to a laptop used in home office to check installed software or troubleshoot. In an industrial setting, it depends on the user– this could be a machine operator, technician, or the production manager – connecting to a machine on the shopfloor to e.g. check machine status or perform maintenance software updates.

Digitalization and connectivity in manufacturing industries are constantly increasing and COVID-19 has accelerated the need to remotely access industrial assets, from individual controllers, to machines, to plant management systems.

A good example for benefits from remote access is the area of service and maintenance: In the early days of COVID-19, service personnel often were not able to travel to the customer’s site. Connectivity and remote access allowed manufacturers to service the machine more quickly (immediate connection and service, no delays due to travel times) and more efficiently (service personnel support multiple customers in different countries throughout the day). Other examples are production companies that can get a better overview of potential issues across production sites, conduct status analysis of their machines for preventive maintenance, or update software installations with one click thanks to having a centralized platform where data from all plants is visualized.

There are a lot of benefits associated with connectivity and digitalization in the industrial environment , but many companies are still hesitant when it comes to allowing remote access to their industrial automation equipment and assets on the shop floor. One reason are cybersecurity issues: operational technology (OT) on the shop floor is mostly not on par with the security level in companies’ IT departments. In many cases, older machines with outdated controllers or software are common. While on a performance level, they still work fine, however, their security level is much lower than that of modern industrial PCs (IPCs) or applications. Another often cited reason is that digitalization in itself is not a simple process – it may have to be accomplished in several stages and requires appropriate commitment of time and resources.

In our blog series, we will look at the key points to consider when implementing secure remote access to assets on the shopfloor, ways for setting up remote access in industrial environments, and  showcase how our industrial edge computing platform Nerve supports the implementation of secure remote access.


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