Manufacturing AUTOMATION

Making the link: data and the connected factory

May 15, 2019
By Jennifer Rideout

Photo: vm/E+/Getty Images

May 15, 2019 – Manufacturing data is growing at an exponential level, and unless you find a way to move, compute and analyze it, it’s going to be a huge burden on your IT team.

Some perspective: In 2017, manufacturers generated 1,912 petabytes of data. That’s equivalent to 426 million full-length DVD-quality movies. Manufacturers are dealing with so much data that research firm IDC predicts that by 2020, 80 per cent will need to extensively restructure to place data at the centre of their processes to increase speed, agility, efficiency and innovation.

So what can you do? If you haven’t already started to think about how data is impacting your production environment, it’s time to do so. There’s no way to avoid the influx of information that will be generated by your machines, operational equipment and processes. But by taking a proactive approach you can ensure you’re collecting and saving the important data and taking best advantage of it to keep your operations running efficiently, productively and safely.

Connect the dots to maximize the value of data
A proactive approach starts with making IT a priority on the factory floor and across the entire business. While manufacturers are embracing technologies and have made great strides over the last decade or so, many are still operating with disparate data silos and unconnected devices.


Adopting a connected environment, where data is collected from monitoring points across the factory floor, enhances the value of data with benefits like reduced downtime and waste.

While evolving IT doesn’t happen overnight, here are a few important things to consider when looking to make a change:

  • Connect the factory floor. Industrial Ethernet in particular (wired and wireless) is changing the game by providing benefits such as narrowing the gap between IT and operations technology, driving interoperability and increasing visibility.
  • Distribute compute power at the edge, fog, cloud and data centre. Extending out to all of these areas provides greater knowledge and faster operations. Traditionally only networking devices were deployed at the edge, which doesn’t provide much compute power for data, and results in poor visibility. But new compute and analytics solutions enable edge devices to provide real-time insights and control.
  • Integrate data, apps, virtualization and platforms. This is key to maximizing the data you collect. Tearing down the silos of information will create new opportunities for not only the factory floor, but also the business as a whole.
  • Deploy intelligent security that’s network integrated and context aware. A security breach on the factory floor can result in safety issues and threaten a company’s reputation. Mitigate risk by securing your equipment and network.

Avoid data overload to focus on the benefits
Collecting and managing high volumes of data provides many benefits, but don’t let data overload become a hindrance. You can avoid this pitfall by assessing where specific data should go, how often if needs to be sent and how it will be used. Consider the following when reviewing your data behaviours.

  1. Frequency: Unnecessary data pulls can lead to data overload, network latency or – in extreme cases – even take the network down. Pull only what you need, when you need it.
  2. Prioritization: Using Time-Sensitive Networking (TSN) and automating quality of service (QoS) parameters will aid in prioritizing critical traffic and ultimately ensuring network integrity.
  3. Processing: Mission-critical data needs to be seen in real-time with analysis completed and response times measured in milliseconds. Consider a hybrid solution of edge computing and centralized data computing within the data centre.
  4. Virtualization: Virtualization supports increased business flexibility through centralized management, pooling of network resources and more. It can also positively impact data centre design, data consumption storage, security and network performance.
  5. Orchestration: Use automation to manage and reduce the complexity of your orchestration processes. Map out who in your organization is receiving data, how they use it, and control this sharing at the highest level.
  6. Visibility: OT and IT teams need to understand how the network works and support education to increase network automation and adoption. Consider implementing dashboard tools that report information and provide teams with the context they need to be successful. 

Don’t wait to start planning for the future. The data deluge is here and won’t disappear anytime soon. Embrace the potential of your connected factory now.

Jennifer Rideout is the manufacturing marketing manager for Cisco Canada. She is responsible for developing go-to-market strategies for the manufacturing sector in Canada, including channel alignment and content development.

This article originally appeared in the May 2019 issue of Manufacturing AUTOMATION.

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