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Plant Floor Virtualization: A Transformative Technology

What is the current state of your plant’s floor? You might be using a mix of PCs and plant floor equipment (human-machine interface, or HMI) from a variety of manufacturers, installed over many years. Your PCs might even include software from numerous developers, created on different operating systems, and using different versions. Put simply, the average plant floor today is highly inefficient, prone to failure and vulnerable to cyber-attacks.

Today’s manufacturing executives must recognize the benefits of increasing their plant floor’s production efficiency. Focusing on efficiency leads to increased operational profitability with two excellent outcomes: plants can produce more at the same cost or produce the same quantity of products at lower cost. Imagine if your plant operators could repair hardware failures in minutes, or configure and test security patches using a robust standardized architecture, before they upload it to the production equipment. These are the types of advancements that only virtualization can help a modern plan floor provide.

Plant Floor Virtualization

Virtualization is a powerful, mature technology that is delivering dramatic gains in plant floor production efficiency and security. Virtualization separates the computing function, applications, and data from the physical computers on your plant floor. The computing function relocates to a central data center, typically located somewhere within the plant.  And it stays there, where it remains secure with the necessary redundancy applied. On virtualized floors, many are seeing increases in net operating profit ranging from .76 percent to 3.64 percent for each percentage point increase in production efficiency.

For example, a packaged goods company that was recently struggling to keep their PCs updated with critical security patches, due to incompatible software on the company’s industrial PCs. Plant floor operators had little knowledge of how to maintain and manage the PCs. With a lack of standards across plants, staff wasn’t able to apply PC patches or, if they did, they applied them inconsistently. The company with the help of Cisco partner, the Applied Group, decided to deploy a virtualized plant-floor architecture based on Cisco’s Unified Computing System (UCS).

The solution provided a standardized architecture across the plant and enabled the plant operators to provide consistent, up-to-date images, even with diverse requirements across the plant floor. Because of this, plant downtime dropped considerably since the standardized architecture handles patches more consistently across a compatible environment. Software testing cycles and disaster recovery testing time have gone from days and weeks to hours. Since line workers are using retrofitted touchscreens on similar PCs, they experience the same physical environment. Finally, greater efficiencies mean that the company is able to reduce the number of data centers in the plant from three to two.

Benefits of the Virtualized Plant Floor

A virtualized plant floor provides:

  • Risk avoidance and strengthened security as updates and security patches are handled centrally, helping to ensure consistent updates with minimal downtime.
  • Greater flexibility to add or expand production lines or new plants, even integrating mergers and acquisitions, because all devices run a standard software image that can be easily downloaded.
  • Better control of IT costs by taking advantage of server consolidation and lowered licensing costs, plus less overhead.
  • Deployment of thin clients that are less costly than thick PC clients.
  • Preserving your existing PC investment by turning them into thin clients as part of the virtualized floor.

Every manufacturing environment is unique. However, Cisco and The Applied Group are helping many manufacturers virtualize their plant floors. Cisco UCS is a critical element of successful virtualization and provides an open, end-to-end, service-optimized infrastructure for next-generation virtual workspaces.

Cisco and The Applied Group have the experience and the expertise, and you can take advantage of what we’ve learned from helping dozens of customers move to virtualization and provide the plan, processes, platform, and people to support your solution. Find out how Cisco and The Applied Group can help your plant be more secure and more productive. For more information visit the Cisco Data Center and Virtualization website and The Applied Group’s company website.

Luxury Appliance Manufacturer Leverages IoE

Earlier this summer, I found myself in Madison, Wisconsin at the headquarters of one of our customers, Sub-Zero.  Sub-Zero is the leading brand of built-in refrigeration and in 2000, acquired the Wolf line of cooking appliances.    Both are the dream brands for anyone undertaking a kitchen remodel or dreaming of one (including my wife!).  The Sub-Zero facilities are gorgeous, particularly the kitchen showrooms where they showcase innovative shapes, sizes, and models for all sorts of consumer needs, kitchen styles and décor.

I was particularly struck at how these appliances- truly the most beautiful and technologically advanced of their kind, are designed and built in the heartland of America (with engineering in Wisconsin and manufacturing in Arizona).   The Cisco team and I, along with our partner from Librestream, were there to profile how Sub-Zero used the Internet of Everything, in this case, innovative mobile video collaboration to re-engineer and streamline their new product design, manufacturing and installation processes.  Find out more details on their use case and business outcomes Sub-Zero experienced from my colleague Chet Namboodri’s blog on Sub-Zero Innovates with the Internet of Everything

To me, Sub-Zero’s use of innovative solutions clearly embodies the theme of a recent Industry Week article on  how small to mid-sized manufacturers can use transformative technology to level the playing field.   In many cases,  I think smaller firms actually have the advantage- including more flexibility to pilot and deploy solutions in perhaps unusual ways.  What do you see as some of the possibilities for IoE in your engineering or production environment?

Manufacturers Are Following the Crowd to ‘Drive’ Innovation

The appetite for the latest new products and services is growing exponentially driven by the 24 hour, on demand, social media driven, next day delivery expecting,  ‘selfie’ posing with the new shiny object, hyper informed consumer.  Satisfying the demand for this fast-paced consumer cycle requires manufacturers to move rapidly to stay ahead of competitors and consumer tastes. They must bring interesting and exciting new products to market in a timely fashion, whether they are first to market or responding to a competitor’s new product offerings.

Two specific trends are emerging and transforming how the industry develops, manufactures and meets the demands of the new on demand consumer driving market – crowd sourcing and 3D printing.

Manufacturing Game Changers:  Crowdsourcing and 3D Printing

Crowdsourcing is not a new development model.  In fact, the open-source model gave us the Linux operating system and the Apache Web server over 20 years ago.  But there is one very distinct difference when applying crowdsourcing methodology to a manufacturing process, as opposed to software development, and that is raw material.   This is where 3D printing technology is rapidly maturing driving orders of magnitude efficiencies and cost savings into the value chain.

A Printed Car

In fact, a start-up called Local Motors is on the cutting edge of combining crowdsourcing and 3D printing to revolutionize the automobile industry. In a process that Local Motors calls “co-creation,” — also known as “crowdsourcing” — the software allows enthusiasts to post a design for a part that other users in a worldwide community can call up on a browser, see in 3D, take measurements from, and comment on, thus providing a new model and methodology for innovation.  Local Motors then leverage 3D printing technology to deploy “microfactories”

Can crowdsourcing and 3D printing produce an electric car?

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Wasted Time is a Manufacturing Killer

Authors: Pat Mitchell and Dan Hirsh

What if you could keep track of manufacturing processes without having to hunt for work in progress (WIP), retrieve carts or pallets or search for a special tool or fixture? Wandering the warehouse in search of these things is a waste of time and resources, and costs money without generating income. What if you never needed to search again? Any time spent that is not specifically changing product form, fit, or function is waste. However, with the right tools from AeroScout, manufacturers can locate anything or anyone in their facility.

Before you can attack waste associated with manufacturing, you must first visualize it. Live, accurate WIP tracking can identify where flow gets congested, products misdirected, and orders lost. A real-time location system (RTLS) can also monitor specialized tools, fixtures, carts, and other equipment. RTLS can measure product movement and track any and every order through a multistage assembly and test process. Imagine a solution that records movement from place to place, automatically time-stamping every value-added activity. This makes it possible to identify areas where the waste is hiding. After all, if you don’t know where the bottlenecks are, how can you devise strategies to eliminate them? RTLS can also track people, so you can find critical team members when you need them.

The Advantage of Wi-Fi Infrastructure

AeroScout delivers complete location-based services and enterprise visibility solutions that take advantage of a Cisco wireless infrastructure.  AeroScout, part of Stanley Black & Decker, is a global market leader in enterprise visibility solutions using standard Wi- Fi networks. Its systems can track and monitor the quantity, location, condition (temperature, humidity, etc.), and status of inventory, as well as mobile assets and people equipped with a unique tag. The company invented the first Wi-Fi-based active RFID tag, and today it is widely recognized as a market-leading Wi-Fi RTLS provider. In a recent blog, my colleague Chet Namboodri details Stanley Black & Decker’s results of a new Connected Factory Wireless implementation conducted with Cisco and AeroScout Industrial.

Unique, identifiable RFID tags are small and inexpensive, and they can be attached to virtually any item. They can identify and locate devices, tools, work pieces, and more in a manufacturing context. Used heavily in large discrete manufacturing facilities, the tags communicate with Wi-Fi networks and provide location information based on triangulation between access points. The video below provides a good overview of additional use cases.

Manufacturing companies are profiting from real-time location systems – here’s how:

  • A major tire plant produces 1000 different car and truck tire products in a 2.6 million square foot facility. Tire curing machines needed to be full for maximum batch efficiency and to maintain production levels. Previously, sub-optimal management of green tire inventory on the floor left too many curing slots empty. Meanwhile, green tires were being scrapped in other parts of the plant. Confusion caused waste of both green and cured tires. Adding tags to each product carrier allowed managers to monitor inventory across the entire facility. Improvements were widespread: more efficient curing, production closer to schedule, less labor overtime, waste reduction, and fewer physical inventory counts of WIP.
  • An architectural glass fabricator builds outer walls for commercial and institutional buildings in three facilities across the United States. Their manufacturing process uses thousands of individual carriers that transport glass for custom orders. As the orders move through nearly 20 tempering, lamination, vacuum, and other process steps, workers would see their share of breakage, lost inventory, and remakes. The company needed a solution that would help locate any job within five minutes, and that solution had to fit into the current networking infrastructure, with easy deployment and minimal maintenance. The Wi- Fi-based RTLS system monitors projects using the company’s existing Cisco Wi-Fi network and increased carrier location accuracy from 60 percent to well over 90 percent. It has also reduced total glass scrap by 65 percent. In addition, the company has reduced staging losses by 55 percent and repurposed 16 full-time employees previously assigned to find glass throughout the facility.

Cisco and AeroScout bring both technologies together to operate seamlessly. Manufacturers can benefit from a robust solution that supports more cost-effective manufacturing by removing unnecessary fat from your lean manufacturing operation. Why continue to waste money searching for critical people, equipment, and materials? Find out how Cisco and AeroScout can create a real-time location system for you.

Manufacturing, IoT and Innovation – What’s the Missing LInk?

My colleague Chet Namboodri recently discussed, “The Internet of Things and the Future of Manufacturing” with Manufacturing Revival Radio.  In the interview, Chet discussed how best in class manufacturers like GM and Stanley Black and Decker are driving innovation and capturing real business value across their value chain by developing and executing an IoT strategy.

Manufacturers like GM and Stanley Black and Decker are creating this platform for innovation by deploying open standards–based Internet Protocol (IP) technologies that converge their enterprise and plant floor networks. The convergence enables tight integration of operation technology (OT) and information technology (IT), creating a flexible and scalable platform to:2439633

Speaking of security, it is cited by most manufacturers as the key barrier to IoT adoption and innovation.  The prospect of connecting millions, potentially billions of sensors, actuators, motors, gauges, valves, and machines with Manufacturing Operations Management (MOM) applications like MES (Manufacturing Execution Systems) and ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning) applications can make VP of Supply Chains, Operation Managers and the like want to go back to the old island of automation model that Chet cited in his interview.

As daunting as security may be to innovation and IoT adoption. The skills workforce gap in the industry is the biggest threat and concern for manufacturing executives and managers. ThomasNet conducted a survey of over 1200 line of business manufacturing professionals .  The survey cited that Generation Y (18-32 years old) employees will make up 75 percent of the workforce by 2025, but three-quarters of manufacturers report that 25 percent or less of their workforce are in the Generation Y age group.

Cisco recognizes that new skills and education are the missing link required to drive innovation and realize the value afforded by IoT in the manufacturing industry.

To prepare and attract the next generation manufacturing workforce Cisco has launched the Cisco Industrial Networking Specialist Certification for information technology (IT) and operational technology (OT) professionals in the manufacturing, process control, and oil and gas industries who install, maintain, and troubleshoot industrial network systems. This certification ensures candidates have the foundational skills to manage and administer networked industrial control systems. It provides plant administrators, control system engineers and traditional network engineers with an understanding of the networking technologies needed in today’s connected plants and enterprises.

What are your major barriers to IoT Adoption?  Security, transitional workforce, ….?  In the meantime, be sure to visit the Industrial IP Advantage website for more information around how you can leverage IP technologies to accelerate your path to IoT value.


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