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Until fairly recently, you wouldn't have expected to find individuals from Boeing's IT organization and its various automation engineering groups working closely together to pilot new technologies on the plant floor.
"In the past, manufacturing did its own thing, and IT did its own thing," says Richard Paine, an advanced computing technologist at the $61bn aerospace and defense giant. "There wasn't open hostility between the organizations, but they tended to go their own ways."
Chinks in the virtual wall separating IT and manufacturing at Boeing began to appear a couple of years ago, however, when the Commercial Airplane group stated its strategic intention to deploy secure wireless networking as a way to bring flexibility to the plant floor. Paine, who had been working on wireless and radio frequency technologies as part of Boeing's Phantom Works research and development organization, took the Commercial Airplane group's statement as a green light. He helped put together a Secure Mobile Architecture Team made up of representatives from Phantom Works, IT, and manufacturing. And the team began to explore, among other things, how Boeing could use existing 802.11 wireless local area networks, which IT had deployed to support general computing applications, for secure mobile communications on the plant floor. The group is creating an architecture--dubbed ScadaNet--in which every packet moving over the wireless network is cryptographically identified, and devices connecting to the network are authenticated via SIM chips. Now, programs such as those for Boeing's 777 airliner are beginning to use the technology to enable wireless robots and machines to move large airliner sub-assemblies, dramatically increasing manufacturing speed and flexibility.
Source: Managing Automation, http://www.managingautomation.com
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