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Unlock IIoT Value Through Service Assurance in Manufacturing Plants

The Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) is a potential game changer for manufacturers. Transforming the way in which manufacturing operates, the IIoT is capable of reducing costs, and improving efficiencies and sustainability, and shows potential in enhancing the traceability and overall efficiency of the supply chain. Such is the extent of its adoption, a recent report reveals that the global IIoT market was valued at almost $146 billion in 2017, and is expected to reach more than $232 billion by 2023.

IIoT principles and technologies can be applied to the production lines which are critical to creating and manufacturing a product, including applications such as computer aided design/manufacturing (CAD/CAM), manufacturing execution systems (MES), and supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) systems. In addition, they are applicable to global systems and operations including inventory management, CRM, and even voice communications at contact centers.

With manufacturing so heavily reliant on IT service delivery, and the coordination of the entire process from production through sales and service to billing, it’s crucial that the availability of these services is assured. Failure to do so could lead to significant inefficiencies, causing revenue and profitability to suffer.

Downtime & outages

Some of these services are delivered in private data centers, some in public cloud or SaaS, and some based in the distributed plants, where communications are contained within the factory itself. The performance and availability of network and application services is critical.

Unplanned downtime can have a major impact on manufacturers; according to one report, the average length of unplanned outage is 85 minutes.

Whether the MES applications in the data center are unavailable for managing inventory, access to a SaaS-based CRM application for customer quoting is slow, or the automated assembly line goes down, the bottom line of a manufacturing firm will be affected. Indeed, the same report reveals that downtime can cost businesses $21.8 million a year on average.

Hold the line

Consideration must also be given to a manufacturer’s plant operations, particularly when production line services operate within a factory environment.

Should communication between machines slow or even stop altogether, the symptoms may not be immediately obvious, and may even exist for an hour or more before being noticed. This can lead to delays on the lines, perhaps halting them completely, or creating issues that require rework. Depending on the nature of the line itself, issues such as these can have a ripple effect throughout the entire business that can result in a direct financial impact. Delays or outages on a line can affect delivery schedules and sales, for example, and if that line is manufacturing parts for other products within the company, a hold-up could lead to widespread delays. 

By way of illustration, consider a commercial HVAC manufacturer, with dozens of factories and R&D facilities across the world. Its distributed plants rely heavily on the IIoT, with investments in automated assembly lines that communicate instructions and status between equipment on its lines. The services at the plants were delivered on virtualized servers, with a similar configuration footprint deployed at every location. When in operation, all communications for this application were performed within the plant.  The IT organization had wire traffic visibility into the centralized data center, which enabled it to perform network and application service assurance for degradations. However, it lacked visibility at the plants, an issue that was exacerbated by the lack of IT staff at these locations. As a result, when issues with local production lines occurred at the plants, it could take several valuable hours to restore optimal performance.

End-to-end visibility

The gap in visibility for the service assurance of network and application services at factory level is a concern for many in IT trying to transform their organization’s digital services.

Visibility into virtualized servers at a wire traffic level is now feasible and cost-effective, making it a viable option for many IT teams within the manufacturing industry. Many manufacturing firms have therefore turned to end-to-end, vendor-independent, wire traffic-based service assurance to improve the performance and availability of their manufacturing applications.

An end-to-end view and/or remote plant visibility enables IT teams to more quickly triage performance issues, particularly in complex, distributed manufacturing environments, ultimately reducing Mean Time to Repair (MTTR), and helping to keep manufacturing lines running efficiently.

The HVAC manufacturer mentioned earlier has definitely seen value in having visibility of its global teams. The networking team at its headquarters is now able to proactively detect and address issues as they arise at the plants, which allows it to minimize or even avoid disruption, and which has been instrumental in driving down its MTTR.

What’s more, the company saw the unexpected and additional benefit of achieving service assurance visibility at its plants with an exponential improvement in the collaboration between its networking and manufacturing teams. NetOps is now able to share metrics, trends, and application information with local factory operations and, in doing so, is facilitating enhancements in day-to-day operations as well as long-term planning.

By extending this visibility beyond just plants, to encompass every aspect of IT infrastructure, from data center to hybrid cloud and all points in between, manufacturers will be able to unlock the full potential of the IIoT, and enjoy greater control, more efficient operations, and, perhaps most importantly, fewer costly outages.

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