For digitalization and cyber security, you have to see the trees AND the forest

Although digital and remote solutions experienced an uptake in pulp and paper in recent years, cyber security should not be ignored

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The global pandemic was a catalyst for change in many ways, but perhaps none more so than embracing digitalization in manufacturing. We’ve seen a clear upswing in the way mills both think and operate in terms of digital, thus opening more opportunities for remote support/services and even commissioning.

This shift isn’t solely beholden to COVID-19; rather the pandemic has only accelerated what price pressures, the heightened consumer focus on sustainability and increased demand for tissue and packaging started – an increased prioritization on optimization and therefore digital technologies that enable new levels of efficiency.

A study by McKinsey & Co. forecasts that digitalization, automation, and Artificial Intelligence (AI) have the potential to deliver additional global economic activity of approximately USD 13 trillion by 2030. We believe this will mainly be fueled by data, which forms the foundation of sustainable results. However, data is only as good as the strategy behind it. This means not only the data collection and validation methods used, but also the cyber security best practices protecting said data.

At ABB, our value to mills comes from our vast pulp and paper domain expertise – built on real-world shop-floor operations and process control, combined with world-class digital solutions and a practical approach to cyber security. This is a big advantage in making data-driven applications more accurate and useful, for optimizing pulp and paper processes while helping mitigate risk.

Today’s manufacturing landscape

It is widely acknowledged that the fourth industrial revolution is bringing huge opportunities for innovation, productivity gains and growth—as well as new challenges.

In fact, companies who weren’t traditional targets of cyber-attacks are making headlines. Ransomware, which is malicious software that locks computer files via encryption, has become the top threat, growing 239% since 2019.  That’s because any industry that is sensitive to costly downtime is an appealing target. A cyber security breach in a pulp, paper, packaging, or tissue mill can bring production to a halt with potentially catastrophic results.

While companies are aware of the growing threats, a recent study by Deloitte found that one in four manufacturers surveyed have not performed a cyber risk assessment in the past year, and fewer than half of manufacturers surveyed performed assessments within the past six months. This significantly hampers the visibility of the impact a cyber attack could have on an organization’s operations.

It comes as no surprise that the acceleration of digitalization in recent years has focused on keeping operations running and not necessarily giving the same urgency to making sure things are secure. This “tunnel-vision” approach could potentially lead to a cyber attack and disastrous operational consequences (or, a shutdown) that could be avoided by manufacturers achieving a well-coordinated balance, or symmetry, between digitalization energies aimed at both plant operations and its cyber defenses.

Approximately one in four manufacturers have not performed a cyber risk assessment in the past year, and fewer than half of manufacturers performed assessments within the past six months.

The payback of digitalization can’t be ignored

None of the above changes the fact that to stay competitive in today’s global market, mills must embrace innovation and take advantage of state-of-the-art automation, AI, digital applications and connectivity (something that was only reinforced when finding new ways to work remotely).

That’s because digitalization can give fast payback and high ROI, since many solutions are focused on making more on-spec paper at lower cost. So it’s not a matter if you should be considering adding digital solutions, but prioritizing the ones that will have the biggest impact based on your operational goals.

Take for example our Strength Virtual Measurements – especially in context of the huge surge in packaging demand. Strength is a crucial property for packaging manufacturers, yet it can only be measured after the paper is made. Optimizing the mix of raw materials and chemicals—and therefore cost to produce—is limited.

It’s not surprising then that we’ve seen an uptick in demand on Strength Virtual Measurements. That’s because the real-time insight into the strength properties that virtual measurements provide during the papermaking process enables proactive adjustments. Instead of running blind to strength and often overcompensating to ensure strength targets are met, mills can keep strength in spec and save significantly on fiber and chemical costs.

Digital transformation is powered by cyber security strategy

As more and more organizations see the benefits of digitalization, cyber security measures need to keep pace. That’s because digital transformation can only be achieved when built on a foundation of cyber security best practices; the cost of ignoring or deprioritizing cyber security exposes organizations to the vulnerabilities mentioned above.

To combat these increasing cyber threats, all digitalization initiatives should actively pursue an appropriate combination of technology, people, and process–including integrating Information Technology (IT) and Operational Technology (OT).

ABB recommends a defense-in-depth approach, meaning addressing cyber security at multiple levels. Mills should establish a foundational level of technical and organizational security controls to defend against the majority of the generic threats.


The introduction of technology must be matched with operational measures that bring in people and processes. This typically includes defining policies and procedures for utilizing the new technology as well as educating employees accordingly.

A good starting point for any operation is an assessment to understand the effectiveness and status of existing measures, especially if you’ve implemented any new technologies or processes since your last assessment.

Then you must undertake continuous management and maintenance of these controls, possibly adding more sophisticated controls, before finally creating a strong collaborative operation of cybersecurity controls with managed security services

While digitalization offers the pay-off mills are looking for, cyber security is much more akin to insurance; it gives you peace of mind. Understanding cyber security as an enabler for deployment of IIoT and digital service will only help mills achieve optimization and operational excellence faster while keeping operations safeguarded.

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