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Today's manufacturers are currently undergoing one of the biggest transformations for decades, as technological advances and the rise of trends such as big data and the Internet of Things (IoT) revolutionise the way they do business.
Companies now have to deal with more information than ever before, while coping with issues such as regulatory demands, quality control guidelines and a fast-moving business environment. However, this also presents huge opportunities for businesses that are able to rise to these challenges.
In an environment where companies are under intense pressure to take items from the drawing board to full production in the shortest possible time, having the right infrastructure underlining key operations can give enterprises a vital competitive advantage over less- connected competitors.
Maximising the data revolution
One of the biggest drivers for change in the manufacturing industry is the explosion of available data. Over the last few years, the amount of information generated by businesses around the world has grown exponentially, and manufacturers are feeling the pressure to tap into this.
Figures from Cisco, for instance, suggest that overall global IP traffic is set to nearly triple by 2020, with much of this coming from developments such as IoT that will be particularly pertinent to manufacturers. It found machine-to- machine connections are expected to grow nearly three-fold from 4.9 billion in 2015 to 12.2 billion by 2020, representing nearly half (46 per cent) of total connected devices.
This in turn demands more reliable, high-bandwidth networks that will need to scale up quickly in order to ensure information is transferred and processed effectively. It's all very well having access to this data, but being able to use it effectively and turn it into valuable insight is another matter.
The emergence of IoT is set to be one of the biggest disruptors in the tech world in the near future, and it will be particularly important to manufacturers. For example, sensors on the factory floor will be able to give real-time insight into the performance of a business and spot potential problems or maintenance issues before they occur.
However, to be useful, they must be able to send this data back - usually wirelessly - for instant processing, with no latency that may lead to delays or inaccurate readings. This demands a robust business networking solution.
Getting information to the right places
Fast connectivity is not just essential for generating and analysing information. It's also vital that the most relevant data - whether created by the business or derived externally - is delivered to the people that need it most in a timely manner.
A recent Warwick Analytics study cited this as one of the biggest challenges facing the manufacturing sector. Respondents in the industry highlighted data being spread among too many systems, which take too long to join and transform, as their number one inhibitor, ahead of concerns over the quality of data and the amount of time required to clean it.
Getting data to people in the field will be essential for success, so effective mobility solutions will also be critical. Whether it is delivering the latest data via smartphone to sales agents during customer meetings, or giving supervisors up-to- the-minute production data on a tablet on the factory floor, a fast, reliable connection is vital in ensuring that employees have the right information at their fingertips no matter where they are.
A more virtualised environment
Given the vast amounts of data that manufacturers now collect, they need advanced solutions for the storage and processing of this information. Building an on-site data centre can be costly and time-consuming, which is why many companies are turning to virtualisation and cloud computing tools in order to meet these demands.
These solutions are especially useful when manufacturers need to share data between multiple sites. Having centralised resources simplifies management and optimises how hardware is used, leading to greater efficiency and lower costs.
However, these technologies require an advanced next generation network in order to achieve their full potential. With large numbers of employees accessing data simultaneously from multiple locations a resilient, secure and reliable infrastructure is crucial.
For companies that can effectively harness this data, the rewards are significant. Warwick Analytics found 92 per cent of manufacturing executives expect the use of data analytics to lead to at least a ten per cent improvement in business performance, so having the right infrastructure to enable this is a must.
For information on the right connectivity options for your business you can view our Ethernet profolio of products.