In just a few years, by 2023, the IoT (Internet of Things) in the manufacturing market is expected to reach $994 billion, according to Allied Market Research. Emerging technologies will encourage this growth, including in areas like AI (artificial intelligence), AR (augmented reality) and VR (virtual reality), and, importantly, 5G. However, cybersecurity remains a sticking point. Manufacturers want to be sure that inviting the IoT in isn’t simultaneously inviting in cybercriminals. Trends like 5G and cybersecurity, therefore, may have opposing effects on the IoT in manufacturing space—one helping adoption and one hindering it—but, nonetheless, they’re both playing a role in shaping the space.

Thanks in part to the ability to transfer data at much higher rates than many current cellular and Wi-Fi networks, 5G networks offer manufacturers the opportunity to truly take advantage of IoT technologies and leverage the benefits of AI, AR, VR, and realtime remote operations. 5G networks can virtually connect every piece of equipment in a production line and generate unprecedented amounts of data. AI algorithms can then leverage this data, allowing devices to “talk” to each other and make decentralized decisions, thereby achieving full automation.

Because 5G networks offer ultra-low latency and vast bandwidth, the fifth generation of wireless communications technologies will play an important role in unlocking AR and VR for purposes in manufacturing that include remote operation, diagnosis, and more efficient and effective worker management and training. 5G can also potentially unlock MaaS (machine-as-a-service) business models for manufacturers of machines.

And while 5G has the potential to help manufacturers accomplish all of this and more, the majority of manufacturing assets today are not connected on a network. The cost of running network cable, conduit, and industrialized network switches and routers is often prohibitive. When looking at the IoT in general, interoperability is another key hurdle in manufacturers’ decisions to move forward with innovative and potentially transformative technologies. Cybersecurity is among these hurdles as well.

Because IoT devices can communicate with disparate systems within a manufacturing environment, there are inherent risks involved in deploying IoT solutions, especially without a comprehensive security plan. According to Deloitte research, nearly 50% of manufacturing executives lack the confidence that they are protected from hacks and breaches, and 48% say they lack adequate funding to ensure secure IoT solutions. What’s more, 75% lack skilled resources internally.

To mitigate cybersecurity threats, manufacturers must take a top-down, risk-based approach to implementing security strategies. Deloitte also suggests that companies implement several policies that will help them remain vigilant, such as routine monitoring of networks, systems, and data. Manufacturers must also do what they can to plan ahead. It’s best not to be engulfed in a breach and realize too late that the company is unprepared to neutralize threats and recover from an event. Having a proactive plan in place could save many headaches down the road.

Understanding the complexity and changing landscapes of the IoT can also go a long way in overcoming the cybersecurity challenges these technologies can introduce into manufacturers’ networks. If manufacturers don’t have this understanding internally, they may seek it elsewhere. Getting help from industry experts can ease the cybersecurity burden and help overcome many challenges that hold manufacturers back from utilizing the IoT to its fullest extent.

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