In the era of the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), technology enhancing machine-to-machine communication and data sharing is rapidly changing the way users conduct business. But with growing interest and more companies dipping their toes into the IIoT, the challenge for manufacturers is often figuring out where to start.

Understanding this problem, the Mazak Corporation is launching its new SmartBox. Dubbed an “industry-shaping collaboration” between Mazak, MEMEX, Inc. and Cisco, the SmartBox is described as an industry first—a launch platform for easy, secure entrance into the IIoT. Using MTConnect technology as the foundation, SmartBox connectivity of machines and devices allows enhanced monitoring and analytical capabilities including advanced cybersecurity protection.

The new technology is being showcased at the Mazak DISCOVER 2015 Technology and Education Event, held from October 27 to 29 and November 3 to 5 at its North American manufacturing headquarters.

The SmartBox falls within Mazak’s iSMART Factory concept that uses Cisco’s Connected Machines solution to provide insights into machine operations. Advanced manufacturing cells and systems, along with full digital integration, can achieve free-flow data sharing, i.e., process control and operation/equipment monitoring. The iSMART concept also incorporates Mazak’s SMOOTH technology.

The new SmartBox is designed to work with any machine regardless of make, model or age. It will be offered in various configurations/kits based on the scenarios and challenges in which each unit will be used. The device mounts to the side of a machine without having to be integrated into the machine’s electrical cabinet. With several standard input/output connecting ports, the box is designed to let users quickly and easily connect any standard off-the-shelf sensors to the system for machine data gathering and condition monitoring. One SmartBox can service several machine tools along with other associated manufacturing equipment, depending on the application.

According to Mazak, the box utilizes Cisco’s Connected Machines solution, based on the IoT System, designed specifically for industrial environments and equipped with an MTConnect software agent. Using a fog computing model, the MTConnect software runs directly on the ruggedized Cisco Industrial Ethernet (IE) 4000 switch—providing real-time visibility and insights into data right on the factory floor.

The Memex software allows the monitoring of analytics of machines, test stands and other equipment within the plant. With IT departments calling security a huge concern when talking about the IIoT, the Cisco hardware is designed to help prevent any issues with unauthorized access to or from the machines and equipment within a network.

The underlying Cisco networking platform helps ensure IT technicians will be familiar with the box’s operation and can use it to quickly and easily control and manage network security. Also, the hardware allows manufacturers to enable secure machine communications through secure access and identity policy mechanisms. Third parties, such as equipment suppliers, can then log onto a company’s network and access only those machines equipped with a Mazak SmartBox.