Manufacturing IT and the rise of Industry 4.0

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Manufacturing IT: Kept Safe and Siloed 

While the nature of corporate IT has developed at an incredible pace, offering an unprecedented level of workplace connectivity and integration, the same cannot be always said of the manufacturing sector. In this environment, IT is often focused on ‘islands’ of production, with groupings of machinery and hardware working independently from an organization’s main network. 

Why is this? 

While there are limitations inherent to existing legacy equipment, much of the tension between corporate and manufacturing IT comes down to competing concerns – that is, security and reliability vs. increasing demands for real-time data from the plant floor. 

There is a belief that the segregation of manufacturing IT from the main network is one way to keep data safe. Why? It’s likely due the fear that IT integration will open up the plant floor to the constant cybersecurity threats and software upgrades facing corporate IT.  Interruptions to “continuous operation” can have drastically different consequences in the manufacturing and corporate environments: Two hours of downtime on a factory floor can incur considerable financial losses and jeopardize the timely fulfillment of orders; but If a network printer goes offline for a couple of hours, the consequences will likely be less severe. 

This prevailing attitude, combined with the expense and complexity of integrating the factory floor into an organization’s main network, means that manufacturing is often viewed as the last acceptable data silo in many companies. 

The Internet of Things and the Rise of the Smart Factory 

Smart technology has been with us for some time, and has already made rapid inroads into the homes of consumers. One report suggests that 79 per cent of US consumers have at least one smart device in their home, with 80 million smart devices being delivered to consumers in 2016. What constitutes a smart device? Think Nest thermostats, smart TVs, Fitbits, or Amazon’s Alexa. 

And as technology and data play an increasingly central role in driving business forward, it’s unlikely that manufacturing will be able to remain isolated for much longer. Considering the current rate of hardware and software development, it’s quite likely that the widespread adoption of manufacturing integration will occur within the next 10 years.  

This reflects a move to Industry 4.0, also known as “The Industrial Internet of Things” (IIoT). Networked sensors and intelligent devices are put to work on the factory floor to collect data and inform decision making. The leap from traditional automation to a fully connected and flexible system is how Deloitte characterizes the rise of the Smart Factory – where linear, sequential supply-chain operations are shifted to an interconnected, open system. 

The Costs and Benefits of Integration 

For this concept to be realized, factory operations will need to be decentralized, and the equipment upgraded or replaced with purpose-built machinery that can further enable automation and communication through a broader network. 

While many companies have significant investments in legacy machinery, and are carefully weighing the extra value of integration against the considerable cost of replacing existing equipment, there are gains to be made. Global business consulting firm McKinsey & Co. predicts that the big data component of integration alone will cut product development and assembly costs for manufacturers by 50 per cent. Currently, Pharmaceutical, food and certain auto industries are at the forefront of manufacturing IT integration, but every business should by now be planning on investing in the necessary IT upgrades.  

At Discovernet, we have developed specific approaches to provide IT solutions relevant to the demands of the manufacturing sector. Our IT support solutions are designed to seamlessly meld with your manufacturing business to detect, isolate, solve and prevent the most frequent & even unconventional challenges faced in product production. 

If your organization is ready to make the jump to Industry 4.0, we’re here to help you every step of the way. 

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