Agile IT Demands a Responsive WAN Edge Infrastructure

The management imperative to create a safer work environment, more efficient workforce, and meet ever higher standards in quality production, is as relevant for today’s manufacturer as it was a hundred years ago. Our modern day workforce has the invaluable resource of data. After all, we are the information generation. Digital technologies and networking infrastructure have enabled us to deploy network connected equipment that captures data. Manufacturers use this information to help them understand how to develop faster production processes, achieve greater consistency and support safer work environments.

Digital technologies are transforming lean manufacturing

So, what is ‘lean’ manufacturing?  The lean manufacturing culture supports a ‘no-waste,’ efficient methodology within production operations. The integration of smart-connected equipment, data, analytics, and human actions and intelligence, creates an amazing hybrid solution that supports this philosophy. This efficient matrix enables the implementation of new production methods.

Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) with smart, connected equipment are a productivity optimization layer that adds automation, data collection and analysis. The data gathered from these systems provides us with valuable insights. IIoT data can identify areas that need improvement, and enhance workflow, productivity, safety and product quality.

Cloud technologies bring significant support to IIoT through low-cost processing and storage.  Cloud levels the playing field for manufacturers of all sizes to quickly and cost-effectively scale plant operations, on-demand.

Our technological timeline has brought us to the era of ‘intelligent’ and automated equipment. Today, our machinery and tools are embedded with sensors and actuators that send their data to analytic systems, which help provide insights that drive back to key process indicators. While data collection begins with equipment on the production line, it can also be aggregated with industry-wide cloud metadata. By combining closed-loop data with an industry-wide data perspective, plant managers and engineers can gain new insights into trends to help them quickly and efficiently solve myriad production problems, and manage a fault-tolerant, predictive intelligent network.

Exponentially improving manufacturing processes

A manufacturing plant with smart, connected equipment is able to share data with operators on the line, quality control personnel, and plant managers, in real time. IoT front-end capabilities are sensor and actuator-enabled equipment and tools, which leverage networking technologies, cloud services and data storage on the backend. Backend functions include remote monitoring, analytics, and procedures and methods derived from the data. The more data collected and analyzed from the production line, the more robust the sample sizes obtained to help manufacturers gain actionable insights. This enables them to make informed decisions for reducing waste and improving safety and product quality.

SD-WAN – an enabler for lean manufacturing and IIoT

The Internet wasn’t designed to support the explosion of today’s traffic demands.  IIoT networks are increasingly complex, expensive and difficult to manage.  IIoT applications are typically mission-critical, so the WAN must be easily controlled, reliable and secure.   Manufacturers need to gain greater control over their WAN infrastructure, to ensure IIoT systems are secure and reliable.  But how?  By making WANs smarter, through agile processes derived from intelligence at the network edge.

Software-defined WAN (SD-WAN) addresses these challenges using a centralized management controller and edge appliances. WANs that are automated with software and policy-driven orchestration allow us to program automated ‘behaviors’ into the network. These behaviors allow us to more easily coordinate networking hardware and software elements to support applications and services. Thus, policy-driven orchestration brings greater intelligence to the network edge.

There are many key process indicators for lean manufacturing that help us measure performance, and better understand how well a manufacturing process is optimized. Because SD-WAN enables us to look deeper into the WAN, end-to-end, key process indicators can be applied to monitor and report on issues in real-time. They can measure the effectiveness in delivering IIoT applications from distributed manufacturing facilities, to data centers and cloud/SaaS, where data are stored and analyzed. SD-WAN is policy-driven, and KPIs can help us understand whether or not the application delivery infrastructure is meeting the manufacturer’s strategic goals.

Business Agility Outcomes

Manufacturers or distributors, particularly of perishable goods like fruit, work with logistics partners who cannot afford to not replenish inventory in hours, so they need real-time systems to enable the “paperwork” processes as well as asset tracking and on-time delivery reporting.

A lot of the old inner-city warehouses that were abandoned for decades are now being revitalized by the concept of 4-hour delivery on-demand.  Those centers need responsive networks to keep them filled. But data processing is becoming more centralized at the same time for cost efficiency and security.

What we see increasingly is the bifurcation of the information about the inventory going to the cloud, but the inventory being shifted to the edge – and that gap is a critical area that needs to have a highly reliant layer of communication able to connect anywhere, over any network type, with the data hub.

Categories: Business Agility


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