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Three Ways Authentication Technologies Help Smart Factories Cut Costs

In today’s competitive manufacturing industry, keeping operating costs down and avoiding unplanned downtime are essential. Modern authentication and access control systems can help by preventing unauthorized use of machines and ensuring that the correct parts and consumables are used. Here are three ways that authentication technologies can reduce operating costs—and why RFID may be the best authentication solution for industrial automation.

1. Machine authentication

Machine authentication ensures that only trained and authorized users can operate equipment. Locking down access to trained operators reduces the risk of costly unplanned downtime related to accidental damage or deliberate sabotage. It also provides a clear record of exactly who used each machine and when, so if maintenance problems develop, plant managers know who to talk to. A modern authentication system can be programmed to give each operator individualized access levels—for example, by machine type, by individual machine or by time. Some operators may have only basic permissions for production activities, while others may have administrator-level access that allows them to change machine configurations and perform maintenance or repairs.

 2. Parts Identification

An authentication system can also be used to verify replacement parts and consumables. Before replacing a part or loading a consumable into a machine (e.g., raw materials in a production environment, replacement filters or gaskets, etc.), the operator simply loads the RFID-tagged consumable or replacement part. The tag sends a code to the reader, which verifies that the approved part or material is in place. The system also provides a log of exactly what was loaded and at what time. A parts identification system reduces maintenance costs by ensuring that parts and consumables are authorized for use with the machine, reducing operator error and the potential problems associated with inferior counterfeit parts, like unplanned downtime. It also provides essential data for cost accounting and maintenance optimization.

 3. Automated Configuration

A parts and consumable identification system can also be used to drive a final cost reduction strategy: automated configuration. For example, a cutting machine that is used with several different material types can be programmed to automatically configure itself correctly for each material type. This improves productivity and cuts down on the potential for operator error, saving time and materials.

 Implementing Authentication for Industrial Automation with RFID

Radio-frequency identification (RFID) makes it easy to match people, parts and machines in the smart factory. RFID provides significant advantages over competing technologies such as passwords and PINs, optical scanners or magnetic stripe cards. Some RFID readers can also be used with Bluetooth® Low Energy (BLE) and Near-field Communication (NFC) technologies used by smartphone credentialing systems.

  • Machine authentication with RFID or smartphone credentialing is easy, fast and secure. Operators don’t have to remember a password or PIN, which reduces the headache of resetting lost or compromised passwords for IT. All they have to do is hold their ID card or mobile device near the reader to open access to the human-machine interface (HMI). The same RFID reader can be used to scan RFID tags for replacement parts and consumables.
  • RFID cards are ideal for grimy factory environments. Unlike optical cards or magstripe cards, they are not damaged by dirt or grease. And their use is contactless, so operators don’t have to touch a keypad with dirty fingers or remove gloves to operate a touchscreen.
  • A unified authentication system can combine machine authentication with physical access control to further improve operator safety and plant security. Employees can use the same card or smartphone application to get into the building, access restricted areas such as production lines, and start up machinery and materials handling equipment.

To get the greatest benefits from industrial automation, it’s important to choose the right RFID reader—and the right implementation partner. Download the whitepaper to learn what to look for in an authentication solution: RFID User Authentication and Access Control for Industrial Automation.

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