By Ray Watson
As manufacturing technology advances and companies find themselves tasked with managing increasingly sophisticated production systems, the industry is adopting methodologies that will help make operations faster and more efficient than ever before.
Against this backdrop of technological disruptions involving automation, the Internet of Things (IoT) and advanced data collection capabilities, IT leaders are feeling pressured to create “smart factories” that digitally reinvent manufacturing, cutting costs and accelerating the organization’s time-to-market along the way.
But designing Industry X.0 – a bold new vision to usher in a fourth industrial revolution – calls for more than just adding a few new cloud applications and replacing legacy machinery.
Rather, every step in the manufacturing process now needs to become a point of real-time data collection. Where operational data can be augmented with analytics to provide actionable intelligence for system designers, it will give rise to predictive maintenance schedules, zero-down-time operations, and optimized digital supply chains.
But connecting systems to talk to each other and provide enhanced data is only half of the equation; maintaining system security and providing tools to enable global collaboration are also critically important. To accomplish both within the manufacturing facility and alongside other Industry 4.0 initiatives, industry experts and IT professionals need to collaborate in order to effectively redesign the role of the network in manufacturing.
Evolving Needs for Manufacturers
Manufacturing operations are dependent on inflexible and outdated IT infrastructures built-in to the production environment, preventing them from adjusting or upgrading their systems as technologies advance. An upgrade to a system-wide IT infrastructure could mean shutting down the entire production line, which results in precious time and product output lost. Moreover, many of the systems operate independent of a common digital framework, making it difficult to monitor and analyze various stages of production and establish an effective IoT ecosystem to optimize productivity.
In order to build tomorrow’s factory today, IT infrastructures with growing data volume must be capable of supporting a number of capabilities including cloud migration, real-time global collaboration, real-time data sharing and analysis, digital supply chains, and evolving security demands.
Network for Smart Factories
Because legacy networks are rigid, resource-intensive systems that weren’t designed for multi-cloud smart factories, manufacturers are turning to hybrid network services with SD-WAN.
SD-WAN – or software-defined networking in a wide area network – is a streamlined approach to managing connectivity that enables organizations to build higher-performance, lower-cost networks through commercially available Internet access while also giving them control over how much bandwidth they’re allocating to certain areas of their network based on how much data is used.
An effective hybrid SD-WAN environment can create highly resilient network services for all global locations and applications that ensure every plant and supplier can effectively collaborate – thereby reducing time to production. Additionally, with real-time performance visibility and self-service bandwidth controls, managing the network is easier, which enables manufacturers to focus on building the next-generation factory.
Another challenge manufacturers face when it comes to their IT infrastructures is reinforcing their cybersecurity defenses due to an increasing number of connected machines and outside suppliers spread across the globe. As part of a hybrid SD-WAN network management ecosystem, new cloud access security broker (CASB) technologies – a cloud-based security monitoring system – can protect multi-cloud manufacturing environments with data analytics and machine learning, and strengthen real-time security monitoring capabilities.
CASB managed threat detection and response services can also bolster traditional security services and perimeter defenses by quickly identifying intruders and stopping them in their tracks.
Digitally Accelerated Production
Cloud communications advancements are helping manufacturers increase operational efficiency and enhance the customer experience by standardizing and on-premises systems thereby improving efficiency and productivity of manufacturing operations as a whole. Modern technology capabilities are making things like global video conferencing and voice-control tools easier than ever before to integrate into automated manufacturing processes. Soon manufacturers will be able to seamlessly manage their operations exclusively through audio and video commands,-enabling a “speak it and it will be done” experience in the factory.
In the modern technology and data landscape, manufacturers are called to do more than satisfy the needs of now; they need to operate at the speed of next. Accelerated cloud migration with an agile IT infrastructure can empower a sophisticated IoT strategy while also improving application delivery – a combination that will enable today’s most innovative manufacturers to compete in tomorrow’s global economy.
Ray Watson is vice president of innovation at Masergy. He has over 17 years of expertise in IT strategy, application solution design and next-generation network architectures.