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A New Use for High-Speed Fiber Optics: Connecting Smart Factories

Machine-to-machine (M2M) connectivity and the Internet of Things (IoT) have risen to the forefront of many strategic technology conversations.

Companies are revamping product designs and component capabilities to allow for seamless, real-time communication flows between devices. Executives talk about how constant transmission and automated analysis of machine-generated information will transform the way we live, work, play, drive and shop, and change the landscape of our homes, offices, cars, malls, supermarkets, hospitals, gas stations and every other place we move through on a daily basis.

As M2M and IoT shape business and operations strategies, influence product design and compel companies to re-examine how suppler and customer data is collected and used, a question begs: How will companies pool together all their internal factory and supply chain data in a way that matches the speed, consistency and reliability of what IoT promises? The factory, after all, is the heartbeat that keeps many companies operating, and a data bottleneck there comes with a costly implication.

Many in the industry in have started to realize that, and it's resulting in a deeper conversation around industrial IoT, or IIoT.

To keep factories up to pace, some of the conversation is moving around the idea of wiring up manufacturing facilities with high-speed fiber optics.

And, the Industrial Internet Consortium is taking a lead on that. The group, led by GE and supported by Cisco, Accenture and Bayshore Networks, has created a new high-speed networking testbed. The new fiber optic technology is capable of reaching speeds of 100-gigabit per second–the equivalent of downloading 6,000 high-definition movies simultaneously, the GE press release noted.)

The 100 gigabit capability extends to the wireless edge, allowing the testbed leaders to provide more data and analytical results to mobile users through advanced communication techniques, according to the consortium's website. GE is installing the networking lines at its Global Research Center; Cisco provided the infrastructure needed to give the network its national reach, Accenture and Bayshore Networks are demonstrating the application of the High-Speed Network Infrastructure for power generation, the group said

“A software research focus for GE has been to advance the real-time connections between large scale systems and to develop sophisticated control systems that increase the performance and efficiency of our products,” said Colin Parris, vice president of GE Software Research, in a statement. “These high-speed networking lines enable accelerated data movement and an increase in data volumes within Industrial Internet products and services. This ability will greatly accelerate needed advancements in these areas, and in collaboration with the Industrial Internet Consortium, help advance industry standards.”

Whether or not high-speed fiber optics technology will be an industry standard for IIoT is yet to be seen. But, regardless of where the standards ultimately lead, companies that want to stay competitive will have to look beyond the advanced technologies and automation already used on their shop floors. Integrating the big data feeds that are reshaping product designs, inbound and outbound supply chain activities and customer interactions will likely come up for discussion sooner or later.

How is M2M and IoT already shaping your manufacturing strategy? How do you intend to get your factories talking the language of big data analytics?

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