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How SD-WAN will enable manufacturers to achieve their digital transformation goals

06 Sep 2019
Image-Peter terry-brown

Peter Terry-Brown

Unified Communications and Connectivity Director
Vodafone Business

In an increasingly digital world, the manufacturing industry might seem like one of the hardest to transform.

This is in part because, more than most other industries, it deals with the physical.

However, if the last industrial revolution proved anything it’s that optimising manufacturing processes can change the world forever.

And software-defined networking may just be the ticket to the next level.

All things connected

One of the biggest challenges manufacturers often must contend with is their sheer size.

Modern manufacturing can be a complex, cross-continental colossus of an enterprise. The task of bringing people together with wildly different roles, cultures and even languages, under one common cause is no easy feat.

It’s no wonder that 80% of manufacturers say they find maintaining control over their increasingly distributed and fast-paced supply chains challenging.

And for many the fix lies in better connectivity.

Few modern technologies have been as universally embraced by the manufacturing industry as IoT, with 58% of them having partially or completely adopted it.

One reason is because, despite all the manufacturing tech we have developed over the years, a large chunk of factory work is still done manually by people.

So, IoT helps bring them together, giving these firms new capabilities when it comes to better tracking items and optimising factory floors.

It can even help ensure worker safety, something 90% of employers hope technology will help them achieve.

However, while improving connectivity can be one of the most beneficial things a manufacturer can do, it can also one be one of the hardest.

Agile manufacturing

Improving connectivity is a key part of digital transformation, and it isn’t easy. But manufacturers know the benefits of getting it right, as 84% of them reported actively trying to digitally transform their business.

Improved connectivity means manufacturers can better optimise processes with greater agility, allowing them to react faster to opportunities and deal with threats before they worsen.

It also provides an insight into energy usage and what resource is needed at peak periods, helping manufacturers to become more efficient and meet their sustainability goals, something 73% of them say they find challenging.

But to achieve this level of control over a supply chain there needs to be a clear and complete view of the entire business, along with the ability to make changes to further improve flexibility.

However, 83% of manufacturers reported having difficulty applying new digital technologies to physical assets.

Next generation software such as Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Robotic Process Automation (RPA) have greater connectivity demands than most legacy networking infrastructure was built to handle.

These networks are often very old, with the software that manages their data integrated into the routers and switches that comprise the network’s infrastructure.

This can act as a limiter for many manufacturers who find they can only go so far on their digital transformation journey. At least not without making substantial improvements to their physical networking infrastructure.

Other than this being extremely expensive in a lot of situations, the disruption it would have on the day-to-day running of the business makes it a virtually impossible undertaking.

But what if there was another way?

Software-defined networking

Software-defined networks can take the heavy lifting out of the digital transformation of network infrastructure.

Products such as software defined wide area networks (SD-WAN) gives organisations the ability to view their entire network virtually and in real-time, helping to take a holistic view and prioritise mission critical areas.

Organisations can track assets more effectively than ever before and reassign bandwidth to the area or areas most in need. This means they can react faster, whether to changes in demand or security threats.

It also means they can start integrating more cutting-edge forms of connectivity technology like 5G and low-power wide-area network (LPWAN), both of which can be revolutionary for manufacturers.

One example of just how revolutionary it can be is e.GO, a German-based company using a 5G-ready network to manufacture electric cars.

Future-proof infrastructure

Every firm today, regardless of industry, will be judged on its agility and ability to improve customer experience.

So, if manufacturers want to survive this era of intense disruption, they are going to need to be able to do these two things well.

And software defined networks are the perfect tool to unlock both.

Are you ready to find out more about SDN and how it can become part of your business strategy?

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