TOKYO — When it comes to sensor data and automation technologies, Japanese companies are old hands. They know how to install and use them effectively to improve productivity — especially on the factory floor.
Unfortunately, all that knowhow doesn’t necessarily translate to the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT).
Germany still holds that title. Many Japanese companies are listening to what German companies like Infineon Technologies have to say about “Industry 4.0.”
Infineon Tuesday (Sept. 26) held a press briefing on IIoT security in Tokyo. Yasuaki Mori, president of Infineon Technologies Japan, stressed, “I don’t think Japan is behind in IIoT. Japanese companies are very knowledgeable of their own ‘use cases.’”
Mori is afraid, however, that Japan might be missing the whole point of IIoT. He reported that many Japanese corporations — who prefer to stick to their own knitting — aren’t seizing the opportunity to transform their business by connecting with others on IIoT. In short, Japanese might know the mechanics, but they actually don’t get what IIoT is really for.
Steve Hanna, Infineon’s senior principal and security expert based in the United States, came to Tokyo as a main speaker at the IIoT briefing. Hanna described, extensively, what he sees as the real value IIoT. “For me, the most exciting thing about IIoT is that it creates new business models,” he said.
Take the example of Kaeser Compressors, he said.
Kaeser is a German company manufacturer of compressed air and vacuum products. Kaeser customers who used to buy from Kaeser machines to compress air no longer need to do so. Instead, they can get from Kaeser compressed air per cubic meter, doing away with the big initial investment in equipment. Instead, they get a small monthly bill.
This transformation is similar to the choice between “buying a car or taking a taxi,” explained Hanna. “Many manufacturers are looking at IoT — just to do that so that they can shift their business from selling things to selling services.”
Equally valuable is the “predictive maintenance” enabled by IIoT, Hanna said. He cited VR Group, a state-owned railway company in Finland. “As you know, it is extremely cold in Finland," he said. "When it’s too cold, sometimes the doors [of a train] wouldn’t close.” This makes maintenance a critical business for the Finnish company.
Previously, VR Group regularly changed door parts and components — regardless of their condition. But by installing sensors into the doors, the company has begun getting “early warning signs for failure,” Hanna said. Sensors can detect when doors start to close a little slower, a sign of impending trouble. IIoT has given VR Group greater reliability at lower cost, he explained.
In many cases, corporations are convinced to use IIoT because it can make their processes more efficient.
But the unresolved reality is that even though IIoT is an excellent time-saver, most business are unprepared to handle a cyberattack on their IIoT systems.
If Infineon is serious about talking the Japanese into IIoT, the promise of efficiency alone wouldn't do the job. The Germany company must demonstrate an expert knowledge of hack attacks, and strut its stuff in IIoT hardware security solutions.
IIoT hacks are only growing
Hanna admitted there have been a growing number of IIoT hacks in recent years.
Examples include Stuxnet, a malicious computer worm that targets industrial computer systems. It caused substantial damage to Iran’s nuclear program.
Another hack attack struck an unnamed steel mill in Germany. This was revealed — after the fact — by the German Federal Office for Information Security just before Christmas 2015. Hackers reportedly disrupted control systems at the mill to such a degree that a blast furnace could not be properly shut down, resulting in "massive” damage.
Last December, after a power cut hit part of the Ukrainian capital, Kiev, researchers investigating the incident determined it was a cyber-attack.
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