How can manufacturers successfully respond to the data-first era?

Posted on 11 Dec 2019 by The Manufacturer

The whole world has gone digital at a lightning-quick pace and if businesses are going to keep up and take advantage, they must be agile, innovative and customer-centric.

For manufacturing, which has traditionally lagged behind other industries in modernising, there are many opportunities to take advantage of through digital transformation.

But to fully embrace these, companies must overhaul their IT strategies and recognise the diminishing role of in-house IT functions and siloed, legacy enterprise IT infrastructures. It calls for new approaches – and crucially, investments – to push manufacturers towards smart factories and data-driven decisions.

5G Technology - Digital Transformation - digitalisation factory - depositphotos

– image courtesy of Depositphotos

As connected technologies such as the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) begin to take hold, the technology infrastructure of the future is going to be everywhere.

However, the sheer volume of data on consumer behaviour and consumption this will produce means new technological abilities are needed to analyse many information streams effectively, and simultaneously. They must then be reported on fast, delivering the most useful findings directly into the right areas of a business.

Data driving change

Manufacturing is quickly grasping the possibilities brought by data, and there is a huge opportunity to optimise operations through the efficient gathering and processing of data from machines within a factory.

Extensive data gathered from a family of machines, for example, can be analysed and characterised by cloud-based AI algorithms alongside human experts. This supports initiatives like predictive maintenance, whereby machine behaviour is monitored to ensure problems are resolved before they escalate, ultimately increasing output and reducing the number of costly repairs required.

When recently participating in the Smart Factory Expo, I was wowed by Aston Martin Red Bull Racing’s approach. It treats the car as a platform. Now we at Equinix talk about platforms, but this was putting the actual racing vehicle at the centre of it all, with data flowing from and to it.

Not only does this allow the car to be adjusted on the fly during the race from trackside – thanks to big data analytics being generated while the racing happens – interconnection meant that back in the race Team’s workshop, a sub-team of engineers could also do near-time diagnostics and adjustments.

Manufacturing Leaders' Summit 2019 - image courtesy of The Manufacturer

– image courtesy of The Manufacturer

At the same co-located Manufacturing Leaders’ Summit, I listened to BAE Systems talk about the critical importance of data security at the edge. It had built a system of interoperational platforms that were able to share data between a range of partners rather than keeping it in the separate data silos that so often arise. Security and trust are naturally key to this.

Collaboration through digitisation

Market trends identified by PwC’s Industry 4.0: Building the digital enterprise report are suggesting that manufacturing digitisation – from the IoT, to 3D printing, to AL and machine learning – will bring huge financial gains.

Indeed, it is expected to boost revenue by 2.9% a year and reduce costs by 3.6%. Wise companies will go on to reinvest these savings into new and innovative techniques that in turn generate more efficiencies in process and spend.

Importantly, four in 10 CEOs already believe growth will come from alliances [PwC Manufacturing Trends] – even partnerships with those who were once seen as competitors. This can provide higher-value and game-changing solutions thanks to the open sharing of critical customer insights and future customer requirements.

When manufacturers and their supply chain partners move physically closer at the edge like this, they can more cost-effectively bring products to market faster to better meet customer needs.

These needs would have been anticipated using a dynamic IT infrastructure that is globally-connected; one that can streamline supply chains and leverage ecosystems, devices and customers for mutual benefit.

Automation Suppliers welding arm

– image courtesy of Depositphotos

Taking advantage of the hybrid approach

To achieve this, manufacturers must move away from legacy systems to a hybrid/multicloud deployment.

This can generate a return on investment within four to nine months, just by simplifying the network. It also offers 10-times the network bandwidth to the cloud with 60% cost savings.

It is here that budget can be found to be reinvested back into other areas of smart manufacturing that will work with data in real-time. However, if manufacturers continue to have this kind of data hosted and stored in different formats and places, its unique and collaborative potential is diminished, understated and overlooked.

We see from our customers the power that sharing information and thinking between thousands of companies on a common platform offers, and how it benefits each industry as a whole, powering it forward into the interconnected future.

Manufacturing is no exception and can build on this with meaningful advances from the shift to digital, given its strategically-important place within world economies.

These companies are no longer just makers. They play a central role in our changing lifestyles, environments and consumption. But we’re now watching to see how they choose to analyse the data that will help them learn what consumers want now and in the future.

Andrew McCreath is a Director of Enterprise Field Development at global interconnection and data centre company Equinix.