Digital transformation, digital business, digitization, digital disruption. There are countless ways to phrase it, but it boils down to this. When digital technologies enable new business models, that’s digital transformation. Digital factory initiatives are generating incredible business outcomes, and at the core there’s a common denominator—a digital-ready infrastructure.
Manufacturers’ Distinct Take on Digital Transformation
In manufacturing, digital transformation means consumers using virtual reality to design their own products. It includes collaboration across multiple engineering teams or between customers and plant floor experts. It means robotics bringing new levels of automation and accuracy to the plant floor. Digital transformation cranks up efficiency by connecting every extremity of the supply chain for total visibility. It pushes efficiency by using sensors to track assets, tools and people for improved safety and security. Digitally savvy manufacturers increase agility by connecting machines for predictive maintenance, resulting in fewer unplanned outages, improved quality and greater yield.
What Does “Digital-Ready Infrastructure” Have To Do With It?
Peel back the exterior of these advancements and there’s a common denominator—a technology foundation that integrates connectivity, security, automation, collaboration and analytics across the entire business value chain. As you think about this foundation, consider these four essential attributes of a digital-ready infrastructure and how they apply to manufacturing.
The threat landscape is changing extraordinarily fast. The growth in connected devices is creating exponentially more targets, and attacks are growing in sophistication. A factory gains enormous value by connecting machines and analyzing data at the network edge to predict failure and perform maintenance before a machine goes down. Despite the benefits of reduced downtime, higher yield and greater efficiency, the potential exposure to risk grows as well. Manufacturers need a secure infrastructure that delivers the performance and reach to see more, protect better, and respond faster.
Millions of endpoints, thousands of virtual machines, and hundreds of applications are being connected for digital transformation—even as Operations and IT staffing remains flat. It’s becoming almost impossible to manage anything manually due to the scale and complexity of factories, network environments and real-time response expectations. With rigorous and rapidly changing business demands, manufacturers need to be proactive, agile, and responsive. An automated infrastructure is a critical means to help companies achieve those ends.
Manufacturers are aggressively seeking ways to unlock the full value of data using contextual awareness of sensors, machines and tools. Analytics at the edge of the network can differentiate between data best handled locally versus data to send back to the control room and data center. Sensor data saying “I’m fine” do not need action. Yet companies need to know ASAP when there’s a problem, its location and its severity to direct rapid resolution. Additionally, factories need predictive and prescriptive insights to ratchet-up efficiency, boost productivity and respond faster to market changes. The more data you can collect and analyze, the more opportunities will emerge.
As the Internet of Things (IoT) marches forward, manufacturers are connecting millions of endpoints and disparate data sources. Additionally, their infrastructures are becoming more dynamic and distributed with cloud, edge and mobile capabilities woven into factory operations. All this leads to complexity. In the face of this, forward-looking manufacturers are increasingly converging OT and IT to integrate processes and information flow. Close alignment is necessary to drive success in this new climate and simplicity in the infrastructure.
Manufacturers who establish a digital-ready infrastructure can sharpen and accelerate their digital factory initiatives. That infrastructure needs to be designed around the above four attributes—secure, automated, intelligent and secure—that combine to propel effective business outcomes.
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