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Plant Floor Virtualization: A Transformative Technology

- September 29, 2014 - 0 Comments

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.

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