The rise of machines: the importance of secure connectivity in manufacturing

To support smart manufacturing and Industry 4.0, the need for enhanced connectivity between people and machines, and machines to machines requires the implementation of an intelligent overlay. This aims to combine humans and machines with processes and information to deliver greater productivity and efficiency than the sum of its parts. In this manner, an intelligent overlay also complements the core feature of Industry 4.0 – connectivity – and will help optimize existing infrastructure, and address digital transformation and data needs in a cost-effective way. 

The effects of an intelligent overlay are palpable and can be felt across all processes and systems, producing better business outcomes. To fully realize the potential of Industry 4.0, robust connectivity that can handle massive amounts of data and bandwidth is a must and requires the support of both network and cloud infrastructure [1]. In fact, according to Statista, forecasts suggest that there will be over 75 billion Internet of Things (IoT)-connected devices in use by 2025. Data created by IoT connections is expected to reach 79.4 zettabytes [2].  

How do intelligent overlays support Industry 4.0? 

Digital transformation is a marathon and not a sprint. There are multiple moving parts and shifting needs; not to mention the importance of accommodating new and sometimes disruptive technologies. 

To be able to adapt and scale, manufacturers will need intelligent overlays such as Software-Defined Wide Area Network (SD-WAN) to handle increasingly complex connectivity. Here are five ways that an SD-WAN intelligent overlay can help: 

  1. Enhanced agility and connectivity. By providing a level of intelligence to each site that enables traffic steering and prioritization, increasing network performance, the network can effectively access cloud applications and adjust to cope with higher or lower traffic volumes on demand. 
  2. Greater flexibility and scalability. With telco-independent SD-WAN not embedded into a specific network, any provider can use it. This enables greater flexibility and scalability, which is essential to support ongoing changes and demands from Industry 4.0 with significant infrastructure changes. 
  3. Simplified management. A key principle of SD-WAN is the centralized orchestrator where you can define central policies, which enable scalable changes as sites are essentially registered or associated to a central platform rather than being individually configured. 
  4. Increased security. Intelligent overlays provide a high level of assurance that traffic between machines, sites and the cloud is secured through encryption that can easily be upgraded. 
  5. Self-healing. With an intelligent overlay, performance of the underlay (the data infrastructure itself) can be monitored. This allows the network to adopt self-healing practices as anomalies and trends are identified and rectified in real time.

Now: the rise of IT/OT convergence and an ongoing focus on connectivity

With smart manufacturing and Industry 4.0 nipping at the heels, staying stationary by maintaining the status quo is akin to falling behind. One potential growth area with the advent of Industry 4.0 is the integration of information technology (IT) and operational technology (OT), better known as IT/OT convergence. 

Enterprises today can no longer afford to view their OT and IT stacks in silos. IT/OT convergence improves productivity and efficiency while reducing costs [3]. It enables smooth and efficient enterprise operations both inside manufacturing plants, on the shop floor, and in the more ‘corporate’ segments of the enterprise. 

Successful IT/OT convergence requires a robust managed network, as it means the organization is constantly plugged into all its informational and operational processes, systems, and machines. This continuous collection and analysis of data gives enterprises the necessary real-time information they need to make informed decisions. Enterprise leaders can react quickly and with agility to changing circumstances to achieve the best possible outcomes for the organization. The collection and analysis will also facilitate continuous improvement, leading to greater operational efficiency.

Realizing the full potential of Industry 4.0

To fully unlock the value of Industry 4.0, enterprises need to ensure they first have the necessary management of network and security infrastructure. At the same time, resource limitations mean that business leaders must prioritize and find the most cost-effective way forward and optimize their return on investment. 

Choosing the right partner for your infrastructure needs can make a big difference to your digital transformation journey. Coevolve has the expertise and wide experience across industries and sectors needed to develop customized solutions that can meet the specific needs of your enterprise, at a reasonable cost, and achieve your business goals.  

Industry 4.0 and digitalization should never be viewed as a resource sink – they are enablers and will only accelerate going forward. The need for maximized connectivity is going to grow. Demands on the network to be more flexible, agile, and scalable will also increase, as new technologies emerge, and more and more digital tools and systems are integrated into the manufacturing space. 

Considering this tectonic shift towards digitalization, enterprises need to change their networks and infrastructure now, to build a firm foundation for future development and growth.