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Improving R&D Through Remote Visualization

Authors: Randal Kenworthy and Doug Wycoff

Innovation in manufacturing comes from many sources.   One of the core and traditional sources is the research and development (R&D) function within a manufacturing organization.   However, the requirements and traditional processes within those functions are changing.

Manufacturers are beginning to see an increase in the amount of collaborative R&D efforts.   That collaboration takes place across geographic boundaries.   Increasingly, it also extends outside the traditional walls of the organization to include other companies, suppliers, partners and universities.

Most organizations have a strong desire to enhance collaboration, but there’s also a need to make sure sensitive data is not exposed, data silos are removed and that the manufacturer’s employees are able to visualize diverse data sets independent of location. These abilities help close information gaps between domains to improve the security, speed, and accuracy of product design and research. .

Challenges Facing Manufacturing and Energy

The Manufacturing and Energy (MNE) industry is facing a unique set of IT challenges when it comes to mobile workforces being able to access and visualize data. Many organizational infrastructures are not designed to take on the visualization capabilities necessary for today’s manufacturing and energy workers. A few challenges impacting the industry are:

Computer processing intensive 3D Design applications -- From a research and development standpoint, we’re seeing engineers and designers working in applications that require heavy graphic usage – 3D graphics specifically. For example, there are engineers doing visualization of the topography of the landscape, trying to find where there’s oil in the ground and engineers designing the next generation jet engine. These 3D applications are very intensive from a Central Processing Unit (CPU) and Graphics Processing Unit (GPU) standpoint.

More collaborative R&D efforts -- Many current organizational infrastructures are not equipped to securely and collaboratively share graphics, drawings and renderings among partners and even fellow offices. Often times today, we’re seeing a 3rd party design company helping with some of the engineering aspects. This requires the ability to share 3D graphic files across multiple parties, globally, both internally and externally within an organization. This means manufacturers now have to deal with engineers outside of their organizations that might be on the other side of the country, or even in another continent.

Security -- as Internet of Things (IoT) continues to propagate, the number of vulnerabilities and exposure points for cyber-theft and attacks are increasing.

In order to address these challenges, the industry is leveraging various emerging technologies and innovations. One capability is remote visualization – remote collaboration on 3D graphics and visualization, through a unified infrastructure. Cisco is now helping create an optimized solution that accelerates the GPU capabilities of a VDI solution.

Benefits of a VDI-Enabled Unified Infrastructure

Recently, an oil and gas exploration company incorporated a unified infrastructure solution called FlexPod Datacenter with NVIDIA and Citrix. FlexPod enables you to centralize important datasets in one or a few locations and make the results of visualization available wherever they are needed. Centralizing data simplifies data integration between systems and accelerates workflows across functions (geophysics, geology, reservoir and simulation). Your geoscientists, engineers, and business decision makers can see important results in real-time, without the bottlenecks that result from transferring huge data sets over network connections or by mail. A few additional benefits include:

  • Eliminate the infrastructure challenges created by ever-growing datasets.
  • Improve collaboration within your organization.
  • Make visualization available where and when it’s needed, including on mobile devices—without local data copies.
  • Allow you to share the results of visualization across organizational boundaries while keeping valuable datasets secure.

Similarly, imagine a defense manufacturer has a large 3D design file that has been shared within the organization and amongst partners. Let’s assume that it’s on 30 different PCs in different countries. The ability for this company to manage, track and protect those 30 designs is challenging because it’s so distributed and hard to know what security levels all partners have in place. Under the FlexPod solution, there is one version of that design/drawing and it’s in a centralized data center that you manage and protect. With this, organizations have better control over what cyber security protection they have around it and also have better control of the actual files. Data centers are not 100 percent threat proof, but they are more secure and much more manageable than if the data was distributed across multiple PCs across the network.

This ability to manage top-secret information is why one defense manufacturer worked with Cisco to build a VDI platform that met all Department of Defense (DOD) security requirements.

No matter how carefully you plan, there can be unforeseen needs and opportunities that result in a requirement for more compute infrastructure in a hurry. Whether it’s in an existing data center, or a remote location, the integrated and tested design of FlexPod Datacenter means that you can have new infrastructure up and running in less time with less effort, providing a distinct competitive advantage in situations where time is of the essence.

Seeing is Believing  

A real-time clip of the VDI solution rendering a 3D Visualization application:

To learn more about visualizing data sets and incorporating a unified infrastructure for enhanced R&D collaboration, visit our solutions page. To see this solution firsthand, visit Cisco in booth 709 at SEG 2014. Together with partners NetApp, NVIDIA and Citrix, we’ll showcase how this solution enhances collaboration and enables faster decision making without exposing sensitive data.

Join Cisco at Automation Fair 2014


As the seasons change and it turns to autumn, it’s almost that time of year to make plans to attend  Automation FairAs always, this event is a ‘can’t miss’ conference for all of you who are in controls, operations or IT for industrial companies.  This year, Automation Fair will be held in the West Coast, in Anaheim from November 19th to the 20th.

As part of our strong strategic relationship with Rockwell Automation, Cisco will once again have a significant presence at this event including speaker presentations, participation in industry forums and our own booth (# 688) as well as participation in the Industrial IP Advantage booth (#758).

Here’s just a short list of why you should make plans to attend Automation Fair this year:

  • Get up to speed on how to connect your factory to the rest of your enterprise and understand all the various trends in enterprise networking. Scott Friberg from Cisco will be presenting a technical session on this.
  • Attend industry forums including Mining (yours truly will be participating), Global Machine builders with Cisco’s Kevin Davenport participating and Food and Beverage with Cisco’s Randal Kenworthy.
  • Catch three sessions where Cisco subject matter experts are joining colleagues from Rockwell Automation to present on these interesting topics:
    • T13 - The Future of Manufacturing in a Connected World -Bryan Tantzen
    • W02 - Securing the Connected Enterprise - Anthony Sabella
    • W10 - Wireless Design Considerations for Industrial Applications -Roy Osterberg

Watch this blog as we post more details on what Cisco will be demonstrating at Automation Fair And on site at the show, we will be posting videos from the action on the show floor so be sure to come back and check on our Manufacturing blog. And follow us on Twitter, “like” us on Facebook, check out our videos on YouTube and join our LinkedIn group.  Hope to see you in Anaheim!

 

Solving Manufacturing Complexities through Data Analytics

Data analytics has been an integral part of manufacturing management for most of its history. However, analytics has undergone both evolutionary and revolutionary changes over the decades with the advent of information technology and digital data gathering and analysis. Part One of this series takes a look at the evolution behind data analytics and new data sources behind its growth. Part Two will provide practical applications of data within the manufacturing environment.

Part One: Data Analytics in Manufacturing

The most recent revolution in this space has been the availability of an extremely large amount of data, collected in real time, from multiple sources across the manufacturing operations, often referred to as “Big Data.” Sources of this data are:

  • Various sensors and measuring devices that are part of the manufacturing line
  • Material input-output transaction processing at each manufacturing stage
  • Location-based data for material and equipment in a manufacturing plant
  • Quality inspection data from online checks
  • Usage based data for equipment

Analysis of all this big data can provide deep insights into the manufacturing planning and operations processes and aid in optimized decision making.

Production and Distribution Planning  

A large amount of data is available from current Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) and Manufacturing Execution Systems (MES) that lends itself to analysis, providing insights into the performance of the manufacturing operations. When large amounts of data from the Programmable Logic Controllers (PLCs)-sensors and machines are included -- the analysis yields results at low levels of granularity (both time and equipment). This kind of analysis can help with the end-to-end supply chain planning processes, including capacity planning, order allocation, production scheduling, inventory planning and can even be made to extend to suppliers, customers and logistics partners.

Process parameter optimization

In cases of complex manufacturing operations, especially where a number of process parameters affect productivity, manufacturers can use real-time data from the plant floor to optimize such parameters to improve yield, quality and operational efficiency. These solutions are common in the chemical process as well as semiconductor manufacturing industries, but lend themselves to use in other industries that incorporate process parameter controls.

Condition monitoring and predictive maintenance

While most organizations focus on minimizing unplanned downtime by implementing planned preventive maintenance schedules, these are expensive and time consuming, not to mention the risk of failures and unplanned downtime due to reliability issues in the hundreds of machine parts involved. Leading manufacturing organizations have implemented condition monitoring and predictive maintenance solutions to overcome such issues. With the availability of huge amounts of data from PLCs, sensors and machines directly, it is now possible to analyze this data and predict failure to a level of accuracy that allows predictive maintenance to be completely automated with minimal human intervention in decision making. These have resulted in improved equipment efficiencies and lower quality costs.

Material flow analysis (identification of bottlenecks, non-value added flows)

Most plant floors and warehouses deal with millions of pallets of raw materials, work-in-process and finished goods that are moved around the plant floor and warehouses using material handling equipment. Such movement often leads to bottlenecks that can result in downtimes due to machines being starved of inputs. In many cases, such movement is not really necessary for the operation and adds no value to the product. Location based data from these pallets as well as material handling equipment can be analyzed to find bottlenecks, which can then be targeted to improve operational efficiencies on the plant floor

Lean / six sigma initiatives

Most manufacturers now have an extreme focus on operating costs, yields and quality and have implemented lead / six sigma initiatives to identify and eliminate waste in any form from the plant floor. Such initiatives rely heavily on data based analysis and decision making to identify improvement actions. Data from the plant floor, whether it is from the stationary sources (machines, PLCs, sensors) or mobile sources (materials, material handling equipment, people), is key to support these initiatives.

How can Cisco help your manufacturing organization improve efficiencies and gain valuable insight through data? Visit our solutions page to find out more and share your thoughts with us in the comments section below. Stayed tuned for Part Two of this series where I’ll detail practical applications of data within the manufacturing environment.

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?