2020 in review: Modern manufacturing strategies are vulnerable to cybersecurity threats

Dec. 21, 2020
Micromolding requires an exactitude that isn’t for everyone; a new temperature scanner recognizes faces; and OEMs aim to build processing machines that fit the skills of today’s workers.

Memorable stories and interesting new products filled the pages of Plastics Machinery Magazineand its website in 2020. Before moving on to 2021, it is worth revisiting a few of the most interesting, as selected by PMM  editors and writers.  

We are highlighting a few stories each week until the end of the year.  

Two things are inevitable: Industry 4.0 and cyber threats 

Every plastics manufacturer, large and small, needs to worry about cybersecurity.  

“Anybody who is in manufacturing, who uses computer equipment, should be worried about cybersecurity, and the reason is that everyone is exposed to cybersecurity risks these days,” said Steve Mustard, an independent consultant who will take over next year as president of the International Society of Automation (ISA).   

As companies embrace Industry 4.0 technologies, enabling remote monitoring and control of equipment, they also increase the risk of hackers gaining access to their computer systems. Companies need to protect not only their information technology (IT) office equipment, but their operational technology (OT) equipment on the factory floor.  

“The most obvious scenarios are people being vulnerable to phishing emails,” Mustard said. “You get an email that has a link in it, you click on it because you think it is a genuine request, and you get malware downloaded on the computer, for instance ... The statistics are quite clear; the vast majority, about 85 percent of cybersecurity incidents, start with someone clicking on a phishing email of some sort.” 


Being expert in molding tiny parts is a big deal 

“We have molded features on a lab slide 4 microns [in] diameter by 3 microns deep, [with] microwells, 42 million of them on one slide,” said Oliver Rapp, the plant manager for NN Life Sciences in Rhode Island. 

Words like “science-fiction,” “Star Trek” and “impossible” come up a lot when talking about micromolding. But pushing the frontiers of manufacturing is a way of life for molders for whom the difference between passing and failing might be no greater than the width of a split hair.

From the mold to assembly and packaging, micromolding requires a greater degree of exactitude. And it isn’t for everyone. 

Innovations in the industry make possible modern marvels, including bioabsorbable drug-delivery systems, tiny pressure monitors for eye surgery and countless components for electronic devices that seem to grow ever smaller.  

“We usually tell our customers, if you’ve got 50 other molders that you can quote this with and they can mold it, that’s not something we’re going to get involved with,” said Aaron Johnson, VP of marketing and consumer strategy for Accumold, an Iowa molder. “At least for us, precision is a big piece of it, and that’s the space we hover around.” 


Clocking in during a pandemic 

A kiosk for screening workers for elevated body temperatures also detects the presence or absence of a mask and can recognize faces, allowing it to alert companies to the presence of unauthorized persons. The kiosk can be integrated with turnstiles and magnetic door locks to allow automated and contactless access to facilities and provide email or text alerts. 

The manufacturer says it measures an individual’s temperature in less than three seconds with an accuracy of plus or minus 0.5 degree Fahrenheit.  


Quote of the week 

“I think you’re seeing a general de-skilling of the workforce. As a result, there is more demand for machines to be able to automatically adjust themselves for things like controlling film thickness and monitoring and adjusting process conditions, thus requiring less manual input. … It’s all about trying to get consistent product without the need to find technically savvy operators, which are harder and harder to find.” 

— Mark Jones, North American director of support services for Austria-based SML, on future developments in extrusion machines. 


Previous installments of our look back at 2020: 








About the Author

Ron Shinn | Editor

Editor Ron Shinn is a co-founder of Plastics Machinery & Manufacturing and has been covering the plastics industry for more than 35 years. He leads the editorial team, directs coverage and sets the editorial calendar. He also writes features, including the Talking Points column and On the Factory Floor, and covers recycling and sustainability for PMM and Plastics Recycling.