Canadian Plastics

NPE showcases need for better Internet security

As I write this the NPE show is barely a week away and already, without having yet gobbled down a single McCormick Place sausage, we are feeling a bit of the editorial indigestion that comes from bein...

July 1, 2000   By Michael LeGault, editor



As I write this the NPE show is barely a week away and already, without having yet gobbled down a single McCormick Place sausage, we are feeling a bit of the editorial indigestion that comes from being over stimulated by words such as new, better, faster, cheaper, unprecedented and first-of-its-kind-anywhere-in-the-known-universe.

Indeed much of our task at NPE is to simply keep our equilibrium and sort out what is truly new and innovative from what is, well, re-packaged. If you could read our thoughts you’d hear us asking ourselves questions such as: Wasn’t a Japanese company making vertical, multi-component insert injection molding machines equipped with stacked dies a few years ago? What makes your company’s wear-resistant barrel screws better than your competition’s? Yes your new low-pressure, long fibre reinforced plastic extrusion process is nifty, but does it have any commercial applications yet?

In advance of the event we privileged people of the media have of course been inundated with pre-show press releases and teasers of various sorts. New dryer systems and technology seems to be one discernible hot area (go figure) of development. There will also be a smattering of new material grades, the usual reconfiguring of machinery lines (smaller footprint, better throughput, etc.) and lots of news, all of which will be old by the time you read this. Still, my read is that big story of NPE 2000 will centered on the Internet.

Forget about buying resin from the Web and consider this: As demonstrated at NPE, the personal computer and Internet are about to come to a shop floor and machine near you. And this you should care about.

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Think about it. Through an Internet link to a machine-side PC you can now monitor in real time all of your equipment’s vital signs — cycle time, temperature, pressures, velocities, etc. — without leaving your office or from a hotel room in Halifax. This applies to your production people also. No more constant machine baby-sitting out in the plant. No more expensive proprietary software and hard-wired data acquisition systems. That’s a lot of time and money saved.

Milacron has apparently introduced one of the most advanced PC- and Internet-based control systems for injection and extrusion machines (see Technology Trends, p. 8). While there are other PC-based operator interface and information management systems for machinery that use the Internet, Milacron’s patented product is the first (so we are told) to be linked with PLCs for sequencing and control of the machine. The feature permits at-a-distance tech support and troubleshooting. At a pre-NPE demonstration of the system there were a few glitches. Processors also have security and virus concerns about operating production machinery from such an Internet-based interface. Still, if Milacron can work out the kinks and prove these worries unfounded, it appears to have a near-term edge on other equipment makers in bringing the full capability of Internet-based control to the shop floor.

How far into a company’s business structure will the Internet and e-com revolution extend? A few years ago OEMs were talking about making all suppliers set up electronic data interchange (EDI) systems to send and receive invoices, shipping notices and other business documents. EDI systems are costly, requiring service providers and proprietary software. A secured Internet or intranet connection makes EDI obsolete.

It is no coincidence that the word ‘security’ keeps reappearing here. As the recent ‘love bug’ virus shows, computers are not yet invulnerable to hacker attacks. Lights-out processors aren’t soothed by assurances their machines will run 99 percent of the time. Only 100 percent counts. The key to expanding the role of the Internet rests on perfecting PC security and virus-proofing.

e-mail: mlegault@corporate.southam.ca


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