Cisco: the power of networks

Posted on 23 Jul 2016 by Jonny Williamson

Cisco, the largest IT networking company in the world, is helping manufacturers around the globe bring the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) to life. Vikas Butaney explains to Jonny Williamson how to get connected.

Almost everyone who has worked in an office environment during the past 30 years will undoubtedly have interacted with Cisco, whether they realised it or otherwise.

Over the past four decades the global tech company has successfully surfed the internet wave in the 1990s, nimbly navigated the almost ubiquitous move to Ethernet in the noughties, and, more recently, helped initiate interest in the Internet of Things.

Vikas Butaney, senior director of product management - IoT platforms, Cisco
Vikas Butaney, senior director of product management – IoT platforms, Cisco

Connecting disparate networks together has very much become Cisco’s bread and butter, and there hasn’t been a more talked about network than the Internet of Things – or the Industrial Internet of Things, to give it its manufacturing context.

Though there has been numerous articles written about the seemingly endless opportunities the Internet of Things (IoT) will eventually bring, there has been a discernible shift of late, a move from the theoretical to physical. A change where Cisco is once again to be found leading the vanguard.

Vikas Butaney, Cisco’s senior director of product management for IoT platforms, is as excited as I am about the prospect of discussing real world examples of this ultra-connected paradigm in action.

“Manufacturers are increasingly looking to digitise and update their businesses, using more communication and networking technologies to deliver four principal benefits – greater OEE; increased agility; lower costs, and higher productivity,” Butaney explained.

Digitisation journey

Butaney is of the opinion that across the world, businesses are looking to – and beginning to – embark on digitisation journeys, and none more so than manufacturers.

Cisco Vikas Butaney PQ - July August 2016A journey is an apt description as relatively few companies are going to have the capital, infrastructure or wherewithal to transform overnight; being a case of evolution, rather than revolution.

“Manufacturers especially are pretty risk-averse, they want to make sure that when they instigate a change to their environment, there’s a clear ROI and benefit in doing so, preferring to take measured steps,” Butaney noted.

“When a business becomes IT deployed, IT operators take a management perspective; they want the ability to control, troubleshoot and monitor the data that traditional IT-related protocols dictate.

Anyone who builds hardware for the manufacturing environment has to ensure that it not only has the right certification, compliance requirements, and form factors [size, configuration and physical arrangement]; but it also has the right protocol support in order for it to be integrated in said environment.”

Depending on which report or case study you read, the global industrial network is in the region of a $1.2bn to $1.4bn market opportunity; so it’s easy to see why any company would sit up and take notice.

Cisco, however, has two crucial differentiators making it ideally placed to capitalise on a first-mover advantage from an IoT perspective: market leadership in switching (around 70% share), and a reputation for being very partner-centric.

Intelligent machines, connected factories and IoT are still at an early stage in terms of widespread adoption - image courtesy of Cisco.
Intelligent machines, connected factories and IoT are still at an early stage in terms of widespread adoption – image courtesy of Cisco.

Already the company has well-established partnerships with Rockwell Automation; Fanuc; Microsoft; IBM (announced in June 2016), and several more in the pipeline – due to be revealed over the coming year.

“We’ve worked with Rockwell Automation for close to 10 years, when IoT as both a technology and a concept was only just being framed. We use this relationship, for example, to learn more about what’s happening at the automation layer, what are the right capabilities and capable products manufacturers require; gaining that domain expertise and integrating that within our purpose-built product portfolio,” Vikas Butaney said.

Brand strength

Cisco has used its core competencies in enterprise networking, the experience gained from having a connected factory offering in the market for several years, and its own understanding of manufacturing – and that of its partners – to help create a rich IoT ecosystem.

Cisco Connected Factory

Put simply, the Cisco Connected Factory is a reliable and fast end-to-end platform that unites proprietary and siloed IT and OT networks into a single, connected network, built upon open standard industrial IP Ethernet.

It features a line-up of inter-related products deployed throughout a site’s footprint, including routers; switches; industrial security appliances; access points; HD IP cameras, and security services, all designed to intelligently use the ever-growing data already available in factory machines today to help improve manufacturing operations.

Learn more about the Cisco Connected Factory at:

Download the Cisco Connected Factory white paper

Download the Cisco ‘at-a-glance’ information brief: ‘Streamline factory operations with ease’

It currently includes a network platform; technology portfolio; investment fund; innovation centres; IoT World Forum; global partners, and standards development. The ecosystem was of paramount importance from the very beginning, explained Butaney; informed by its deep appreciation for constantly changing customer needs and behaviours.

“You have to be keenly aware of the customer – what are their primary concerns; how do they purchase; how are they going to deploy the technology; what outcome are they looking for. We know that networking, even though it’s an important component, has to be presented in a way that customers can care about it, that’s why our ecosystem and partnerships are so vital,” Butaney said.

Intelligent machines, connected factories and IoT are still at an early stage in terms of widespread adoption. What’s needed, according to Butaney, are “lighthouse companies”, particularly robot and CNC machine builders, to help drive more mainstream adoption.

“After working with several customers, we realised that machine builders are looking to provide their equivalent of a smart device. As they begin to do that, they are realising that these smart devices contain a huge amount of telemetry and diagnostics data, but it’s not readily accessible.”

Mazak is one such machine tool builder, a global manufacturer of precise metal cutting machinery which Cisco began working with at the start of 2015.

Mazak case study

Mazak’s customers all want to gain the benefits Butaney outlined earlier – greater OEE; increased agility; lowered costs, and higher productivity.

Robot and CNC machine builders need to help drive more mainstream adoption of IoT and connected factories – image courtesy of Cisco.
Robot and CNC machine builders need to help drive more mainstream adoption of IoT and connected factories – image courtesy of Cisco.

In order to create new recurring revenue opportunities, Mazak is looking to position itself closer to customers by not just providing them with a product, but transitioning to become more service-oriented by monitoring machine usage and consumption out in the field.

It would look to be win-win; the customer achieves gains across several KPIs and Mazak bolsters its market reputation.

However, in order for Mazak to achieve such a service, it needed a partner able to integrate an application such as MTConnect into its offering, provide a footprint in which machines can be connected and where data can be securely ingested, transformed, analysed and delivered to management and/ or operational systems.

“For Mazak to integrate into the Internet of Things (IoT) a unique, custom device was required, a device which turned out to be the Mazak SmartBox,” Butaney explained.

“The Mazak SmartBox is a protected sandbox which converges four separate technologies – connectivity and communications; security; fog application execution, and software-based, real-time analytics – in one device. That’s a manufacturing industry first.

A tool manufacturing floor manager analyses smart factory equipment using the Internet of Things (IoT) - image courtesy of Cisco.
A tool manufacturing floor manager analyses smart factory equipment using the Internet of Things (IoT) – image courtesy of Cisco.

“By providing both fog and cloud data analytics capability, Cisco is able to extract the relevant data and run real-time analytics directly on the network infrastructure [in the fog] in order to optimise the individual machine; but then take it one stage further by using that data in conjunction with all of the contexts surrounding it to drive an overall more productive system.

“What used to take four separate technologies, now takes just one box offering higher throughput; machine utilisation; product quality, and lower downtime, alongside an ROI measured in just weeks.”

Words of advice

So if Cisco’s immediate focus is “lighthouse companies”, what can small to medium-sized manufacturers do in the interim to prepare their businesses and begin to exploit the advantages greater connectivity offers?

Cisco Vikas Butaney PQ2 - July August 2016“Manufacturers – regardless of size – typically go through three phases of IoT. First; breaking down silos, especially between IT and OT networks, to access the data contained within the business, and start to create a connected network with machines, devices and people.

“A lot of manufacturers currently use unmanaged switches. If they start to use even slightly better technology, they can benefit from basic diagnostic information such as whether a cable has become disconnected or a set-up has changed. The important thing to remember is to always use the best of technology, and security is a top of mind concern.”

“Second; moving from a product orientation towards creating a connected service-oriented business, where Mazak is, for example. Third; creating a connected ecosystem where you’re able to access and share data from and between different vendors.

“Manufacturers aren’t just trying to gain the best efficiency out of one machine, they want the entire production line to be optimised. A connected ecosystem allows each device and machine to talk and work together, increasing overall visibility; responsiveness; agility, and productivity.”