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How network resilience drives the manufacturing information value loop


The global enterprise Internet of Things (IoT) sector continues to expand exponentially. The market will grow to $650 billion (€603.10 billion) by the end of 2023, according to a new report by GlobalData thematic research. Manufacturing is among a raft of industry sectors showing dynamic progression in terms of IoT market size. According to analysts, MarketsandMarkets Research, the global IoT in manufacturing size was valued at US$ 50 billion (€46.39 billion) in 2021 and is projected to grow to US$ 87.9 billion (€81.56 billion) by 2026 at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 11.9%., says Alan Stewart-Brown, VP EMEA, Opengear.

Across the information value loop

What IoT potentially delivers for manufacturers is greater knowledge of the products that they have sold to customers such as a car, a connected fridge or a smart device of some sort. These have the ability to constantly feed information back to the manufacturer on how they are running while also giving them the power to offer new services and support packages, therefore receiving incremental revenue streams from their customers.

This process, known as “the information value loop”, consists of three interconnected elements: stages, value drivers, and technologies. In order for information to effectively finish the loop and drive value, it needs to move through all of the loop’s stages, each of which is facilitated by specific technologies.

An actis monitored by a sensor that creates information. That information passes through a network so that it can be communicated, and technical, legal, regulatory, or social standards then enable that information to be aggregated across time and space. The loop is completed through augmented behaviour technologies that either enable automated autonomous action or drive human decisions in a way that effectively leads to improved action.

Making good use of the information value loop is key to manufacturing success but it is critical to understand that doing so also relies on maintaining a fully resilient network.

Why resilience matters

Whether it’s a company with one plant or hundreds of factories worldwide, efficiency and excellence in the network infrastructures are key to maximising operational efforts and avoiding bottlenecks, downtime, and more costs, while also maintaining the information value loop. In manufacturing, time equals money. When a device on the network fails, accurate and fast troubleshooting is crucial. Every minute of downtime impacts business production, and profits.

That’s why manufacturers urgently require a resilient network to ensure the business continuity needed for optimised operations. Manufacturing companies have many distributed plants and engineers must ensure they can manage their network remotely, enabling uptime. Network resilience is the ability to provide and maintain an acceptable level of service in the face of faults that challenge normal operations. More than just improving uptime or building in redundancy, network resilience adds a layer of intelligence to the backbone of an enterprise, the IT infrastructure.

The last mile challenges

The ongoing roll-out of connected devices brings manufacturers benefits and opportunities but also challenges. Cloud services and SD-WAN are becoming a core part of many manufacturing businesses and help to support the hyper-connectivity, many modern manufacturers crave but one weakness these technologies don’t overcome is the last mile problem. The last mile is the final segment of the WAN network that connects an organisation’s factories, data centres, and distribution outlets to its SD-WAN and cloud services.

Typically, it is also the weakest link between an establishment and its SD-WAN and cloud applications. To protect against the last mile problem and optimise the benefits they attain from the information value loop, manufacturers need a solution that offers additional network bandwidth and availability. Ideally, they need to achieve uninterrupted Internet connectivity for branch LANs and equipment over a link that is not part of the last mile. 

Resilience in manufacturing

Smart Out of Band management technology allows the network engineering team to securely access critical devices both physical and virtual from a central location, to anticipate and remediate issues without sending a technician to site. A technique known as Failover to Cellular (F2C) can deliver further benefits here, including providing continued internet connectivity for remote LANs and equipment over high-speed 4G LTE or 3G networks when the primary link is unavailable. Ensuring speed to keep the network running smoothly and link diversity for true WAN resilience, Failover to Cellular is built on IP Passthrough technology. This allows for easy integration into existing installations or can be rapidly deployed for instant-on connectivity for new networks and branch locations.

Smart Out of Band management’s primary application is to provide secure, remote access to critical devices even when the primary network is down. It offers presence and proximity to the distributed network, with a console server at every location, physically connected to routers, switches and key hardware. The addition of 4G-LTE provides a secure alternative access path, and Failover to Cellular provides enough bandwidth for critical processes to continue to operate during an outage. When the network goes down, Smart Out of Band keeps the network running at all times.

To further drive resilience and enable manufacturers to derive sustained benefits from the information value loop, manufacturers must ally the Smart Out of Band approach with network operations (NetOps) processes. Manufacturers can use this approach to deliver zero touch provisioning, effectively getting the network provisioned and up and running, without having to do anything manually. Often, they will want to ‘zero touch provision’ their own devices. They will also seek to use NetOps processes to enable the orchestration of maintenance tasks and to automatically deliver remediation in the event of an equipment failure or other technical problem.

Keeping the information value loop in place

Downtime in manufacturing is detrimental. When the facility’s output is stopped, whether it’s due to an unplanned event like a hurricane or equipment failure, the organisation is losing valuable production time, as well as incurring an inherent reduction in profits. Limited or even stopped production means no revenue is being generated. In addition, relationships and contracts with other companies can become strained.

That’s where a combination of Smart Out of Band and NetOps automation can be so beneficial in helping manufacturers to secure their networks, improve efficiency and productivity and minimise the risk of disruption. In turn, this will create greater resiliency across the organisation and a steady foundation to progress with digitalisation and innovation projects in the future.

And critically too, this potent combination of technologies allows manufacturers to keep their information value loop up and running, ensuring that they are continuously delivering critical information about customers, product performance and operational efficiencies that in turn help drive business advantage and competitive edge.

The author is Alan Stewart-Brown, VP EMEA, Opengear.

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