A survey from 2014 found that small and medium-sized manufacturers do not like to compromise on quality when it comes to communications devices, vehicles or tea (yes tea – the survey respondents were probably British) but were more likely to skimp when it came to things like manufacturing equipment1. Whether it is a new computer for the office or a welding station for the shop floor, purchasing new equipment is a decision about risk. A poor purchasing decision can result in a waste of resources and possibly a safety or cybersecurity incident.
Before you purchase or otherwise acquire a piece of equipment, whether it be a CNC machine or a cell phone, there are a lot of things to consider: How will it be financed? What special safety or cybersecurity concerns come with it? What will maintenance look like? How long is it expected to last?
It can be easy to overlook some aspect of risk involved in a purchase decision when overwhelmed with options. It can be especially difficult to know what to buy when comparing three different products that seem very similar.
NIST MEP has created a pre-purchase guide that might help.
The questions below are intended to help you make a well-informed decision about your purchase and understand what safety, cybersecurity and other risks might impact the long-term cost-effectiveness of your purchase – reducing the chances of having buyer’s remorse later.
The sequence of the questions is in terms of equipment lifecycle, covering financing, installation, use, maintenance and disposal of the equipment. There may be additional questions specific to your circumstances that you will want to include in your decision-making. Feel free to add them – this questionnaire is meant to help, not restrict, your decision-making process.
Be mindful of some of the questions you might not be able to answer. In this instance, what you don’t know CAN hurt you. Your local MEP Center may be able to help if you are uncertain of what additional questions to ask.
You can download a pdf of the pre-purchase equipment guide for easier reference.
Leasing is becoming increasingly popular for high-tech equipment as it provides protection against obsolescence, but it can be more expensive in the long run, and customers may lose control over updates and upgrades. Whichever option you choose, check contracts for provisions that protect customers from security, quality and compatibility problems that may develop and how those problems will be addressed (see question 7).
Documentation for the equipment may provide much of this information, but other information is dependent on the business such as protection from nuts in a food processing plant.
Sometimes one purchase can lead to several others. Many add-ons are included to either protect people from the equipment or to protect the equipment from the environment.
Any time a piece of equipment electronically “talks” to something else, be it a sensor or the internet, that communication channel represents a cybersecurity risk that should be protected. The more connected a piece of equipment is, the higher the cybersecurity risk.
People often represent the most significant safety and security risk.
If the equipment is used less often than anticipated in usual maintenance schedules or less often than regular security updates are made available, this can result in both increased cybersecurity risk and decreased reliability.
Maintenance can be an expensive endeavor, making or breaking the usefulness of a piece of equipment. It is also a time when unexpected problems can surface such as compatibility issues and cybersecurity concerns leading to long-term unanticipated expenses.
Some equipment is designed to last decades, while other equipment lasts a few years at most. Understanding and planning for what will happen when the equipment dies will prevent production interruptions and some cybersecurity concerns.
Once you have answered these questions, it’s time to make a decision to purchase the equipment or not. If you purchase the equipment, use the information you gathered to make sure it is installed and configured in a way that meets your efficiency, safety and security requirements.
Your local MEP Center will have resources to help you make the best decisions possible for your business and can help you understand the safety, security, quality and efficiency of the equipment you either purchase or lease.
The content in this article is intended to be used to help inform equipment assessment and selection. However, any resulting equipment decisions on the part of the reader are the sole responsibility of the reader. NIST MEP is not liable for any results or ramifications of such decisions.