IT monitoring in manufacturing demands a holistic view

Thursday November 08, 2018
Written by Romain Le Merlus
November 8, 2018 – Information technology proliferation on the plant floor is transforming industrial manufacturing, driving innovation and providing countless benefits. Manufacturers are experiencing increased productivity, improved product quality, enhanced customer satisfaction and, ultimately, a better bottom line.

Fueled by the affordability and availability of digital technologies, Industry 4.0 is creating agile, adaptable and future-proof – or “smart” manufacturing. But this digital age revolution brings with it challenges that, if unchecked, will create barriers to progress.

New stress on IT infrastructure
International Data Corporation forecasts a compound annual growth rate of 17.9 per cent in spending on digital transformation for the period through 2021 – at that time the spending will nearly double to more than $2.1 trillion.

To embrace digital transformation, IT has had to move into the previously uncharted territory of the factory floor. For efforts to succeed, all machines must be connected and, in turn, controlled. This is performed through the high-end automation solutions provided by the machine’s vendor. Still, it creates a new stress on the IT infrastructure, which itself has become more crucial.

Digital transformation, which is accelerating across all industries and sectors, is creating more complex and hybrid IT infrastructures that combine on-premise legacy systems — of which manufacturing has many — and emerging cloud-based technologies.

In the manufacturing sector today, infrastructure and operations (I&O) professionals must use multiple tools to monitor and manage these separate IT systems. But this only adds to the complexity as it creates operational silos and lack of visibility. This ultimately hinders the very innovation manufacturers are trying to achieve.

To effectively adopt Industry 4.0 processes, manufacturers need a single, holistic view of their hybrid IT infrastructure, not a dozen disconnected ones.

Always-on, can’t-fail IT infrastructure
For Industry 4.0 manufacturers, network failure is not an option. Yet outages persist. As digital transformation accelerates, plants become more connected with back-end systems such as ERP. This shifts IT infrastructure into a mission-critical role, driving the need to effectively monitor and manage it. In today’s always-on economy, information shared across the network is critical to business planning and decision making.

Adding to the new pressures and complexity placed on the IT infrastructure is the extremely damaging cost of IT downtime. Now that IT is everywhere, from the head office to the factory floor, interoperability and uninterrupted access to equipment, applications, data and processes are table stakes for manufacturers who need to compete and innovate.

Outages at any point can cause havoc further down the line and also affect staff morale, customer loyalty and the business’ reputation. The financial damage, both in immediate loss and opportunity cost, can be widespread and long-lasting.

As a result, the business demands for recovery are high. Manufacturing companies are especially vulnerable to an availability gap, where the IT team cannot meet the recovery requirements of the business. This is not uncommon across all industries – 80 per cent of IT decision makers suffer from an availability gap, resulting in total costs of $21.8 million per year. In a sector where continuous operations are critical, business continuity is imperative.

Paving the way for remote IT monitoring
By its nature, manufacturing is a global activity. Plants in China, Mexico or Brazil conduct operations far from the company headquarters and its centralized IT team. Reaching the next stage of Industry 4.0 will naturally demand enhanced remote monitoring capabilities.

With plants operating thousands of kilometres away, the challenge is to receive, react and respond to IT operations issues in real-time to prevent outages and downtime. At the same time, the business-focused view must be available to CIOs at the head office to enable smart, data-driven decisions.

The good news for the manufacturing sector today is that there are agile solutions that deliver top-down unified views for complex, hybrid infrastructures that enable the management of big data and the integrated new toolsets manufacturers are struggling with.

True Industry 4.0 capabilities will come only when manufacturers are able to provide both a holistic view of what's happening across the network, as well as autonomous local monitoring capabilities. That way plant operators can increase the ease and speed by which they can respond to issues and reduce the reliance on wide-area and cloud connections between, say, Calgary and China.

As the manufacturing industry evolves and innovates, comprehensive, business-aware IT monitoring must be at the heart of Industry 4.0 adoption and plant automation.

Romain Le Merlus is co-founder and CEO of Centreon Software Systems, North America. Centreon provides business-critical monitoring solutions for IT infrastructure and applications.

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