Future tech

Smart manufacturing requires ‘open platforms’, but are they safe?

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 23 September, 2017, 3:32pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 23 September, 2017, 3:32pm

Concerns over data security and the protection of intellectual property have become important issues as more companies embrace the open digital platforms which are needed to facilitate data sharing in the manufacturing process, according to experts.

Norbert Gaus, Siemens’ head of research in digitalisation, automation and platform development, said a key trend is towards “open source” and modular software development that allows external partners to participate in the innovation process.

“Having an ecosystem is not an option any more, it is a necessity,” he said.

Forming alliances with university research units and start-ups is key to meeting increasingly short product development cycles “without an explosion of costs,” he said.

Companies providing “smart manufacturing” technology to China have placed special emphasis on protecting clients from intellectual property theft risks.

Underscoring the importance of security, the Trade Development Council published a report highlighting the vulnerabilities of manufacturing systems “where a large amount of information and data is likely to be processed to achieve optimisation”.

“Some are likely concerned that transferring cutting edge technology to Chinese enterprises will affect their own competitiveness in the long term,” the report said.

Siemens chief technology officer Roland Busch said measures to protect intellectual property includes filing patents and developing technology in different places so that the whole picture can only be pieced together with components from different locations.

He said that Siemens places a high priority of intellectual property protection and has taken additional steps to guard against theft.

“Invent faster than our rivals so that we can be always be ahead, and ensure our servers are protected by our cyber security centre” Busch said.

According to a 2015 study by Bitkom, an association representing thousands of German companies operating in the digital economy, digital industrial espionage, sabotage and data theft amounted to 51 billion (HK$476.9 billion) annually.

Siemens said nearly half the 4 million emails it handles on its servers daily are spam, some of which also contain infectious links.

The company operates several cyber defence centres to help defend against intrusion.

Another concern for foreign firms operating in China is the restricted access to some foreign websites.

“Recent regulatory developments, including limiting virtual private network use, have created significant difficulty for valuable data communication and ideas exchange,” Daiwa Capital Markets economists Kevin Lai and Olivia Xia wrote in a research report.

“While [Beijing] has put great emphasis on the role of ideas and innovation in rebalancing the economy, innovation tends to be more restricted in an environment where exchange is


Zhu Xiaoxun, head of Siemens’ corporate technology in China, said China’s digital “firewall” has not prevented the company’s researchers from collaborating with their overseas colleagues.