By Steve Spatig, General Manager, Electronic Access Solutions, Southco, Inc.
The Internet of Things (IoT) is a concept that’s driving significant technological transformations across a broad range of industries and applications. IoT is often described as multiple, overlapping and interconnecting networks of intelligent devices, connected through various Internet- and cloud-based platforms, to provide remote monitoring and control of the connected devices.
While often thought of as principally applying to home and industrial automation, IoT also provides opportunities for streamlining physical security. Electronic Access Solutions (EAS) use intelligent locking mechanisms, connected through networked control systems, to provide a more secure, simplified means of controlling and monitoring access to areas, systems and equipment. In addition to monitoring of equipment status, maintenance and optimization, IoT can also provide remote physical security access control and monitoring.
Leveraging Electronic Access to Improve Operations
In many applications, accessing machines or supply cabinets requires entering a password into a keypad or machine user interface. While this is a step up from physical keys, it doesn’t take full advantage of the efficiency and flexibility that cloud-based EAS platforms provide.
As manufacturing environments become more connected and IoT-equipped, it is possible to implement a more flexible and efficient way of providing the right users with digital “keys” that both enhance security and make physical access easier for personnel. Wireless BLUETOOTH® based access control systems leverage the cloud and smartphones to provide secure electronic access credentials that are much more cost effective and easier to manage and update than traditional physical security systems.
By implementing EAS into plant and industrial settings that are becoming “smarter” Physical security solutions can be combined with other intelligent control and monitoring systems to leverage a single IoT platform. Equipment physical security should be thought of as another element of a connected, remotely managed facility.
EAS can also provide useful logistics and operational information to optimize the flow of materials for a more efficient operation. Many industrial operations have supply cabinets, equipment lockers and Maintenance, Repair and Operations (MRO) cabinets that are routinely secured. When equipped with EAS technology, access and withdrawal of items from these secured locations can be precisely tracked – not only to the cabinet itself but down to the individual supply bins within the cabinet.
Only authorized users can access these cabinets; they are logged in, the items they remove are tracked, with the data sent back to suppliers and logistics personnel via a cloud-connected remote monitoring system to monitor and replenish supplies instantaneously. This provides additional benefit to the operations team, as they can analyze usage data to run more efficiently and optimize their inventory levels.
More efficient use of supplies is another advantage that cloud-based EAS offers. For example, the auto collision industry experiences up to 30% waste due to inefficient use of materials. A cloud-based inventory management system can easily eliminate this waste by providing real time tracking of inventory consumed by each technician for each job. Using a web-based access system, technicians log in when they need materials, and the products they pull are tracked according to the repair they are working on. As a result, cost control and materials management can be improved, and work materials inventory can be more precisely controlled based on actual consumption.
EAS technology can also enhance safety, a vital and ongoing concern in many industrial environments. There may be portable equipment secured in lockers, or complex and sensitive machinery such as costly machine tools that are only to be accessed and operated by trained personnel. EAS can ensure that only authorized personnel operate potentially dangerous equipment or access dangerous products by providing electronic keys to access these resources. If a machine tool enclosure is opened and maintenance and repair is conducted, this approach tracks exactly which technician performed the work. These connected devices can also provide data on how much time the enclosure was open, helping operations managers to assess machine downtime and costs.
Combining Physical Security and IoT Data
Cloud-based EAS platforms provide unique and valuable information for applications and environments that have implemented IoT-level connectivity and intelligence in their operations. These solutions provide a level of physical security that is extremely flexible and much more secure than mechanical keys, while delivering remote access tracking and control of valuable equipment and resources for facility protection and safety.
EAS technology can be combined with other IoT systems to generate valuable information about facilities uptime and utilization, personnel efficiency and manufacturing costs. As with other types of information generated by IoT technology, it is ultimately up to the enterprise to intelligently mine and analyze this data, and apply it to their business challenges.