The modern manufacturer relies on a wide-area network (WAN) to keep their critical infrastructures connected and operational. As with any industry entering the digital age, an application-aware SD-WAN solution can be particularly valuable in allowing manufacturers to prioritize network bandwidth to business-critical applications and best direct network traffic, thus supporting current business demands while helping manufacturers plan for the future.
Today's manufacturers employ numerous applications that rely on functional WANs, ranging from real-time and bulky applications to wearable IoT. Each of these contributes to a safer, more efficient and agile manufacturing landscape than ever before.
Monitoring and collaboration through real-time applications
Real-time applications include the audio and video tools that are used for monitoring and communication, as well as sensor data that can monitor conditions along the production line and in the workplace. Such applications are very sensitive to small changes in latency, which can have a noticeable effect on user experience that could hurt production and ultimately trickle down to the end customer.
For instance, manufacturers often use cameras to monitor production and ensure the safety and security of all company assets — both their material products and the workers creating them. Any latency impact on these video streams could cause poor quality oversight, resulting in an insufficient end product, not to mention an unmonitored and unsafe workplace.
This also speaks to sensors on the production line that might track inventory levels of a component or chemical in the manufacturing process. When this component reaches a critically high or low level, sensor can alert the supplier in real-time so that they can address any issues before the problem gets exacerbated. That critical performance would need to be protected or the production line suffers.
Small changes in latency flows can also impact unified communications (UC) and collaboration applications like VoIP or Skype for Business that keep disparate business units in direct contact. A hiccup in the service quality of these apps due to poor network performance can create significant production delays if teams aren't able to align their targets over UC channels.
Innovation accelerates faster when new, bulky applications enter the workflow
At the heart of manufacturing innovation is the ability for the supply chain and production process to be streamlined thanks to better “bulky” tools. 3D Printing, for instance, has greatly improved the internal procedures of many manufacturers and has even allowed some businesses to take many of their processes into the field.
Wherever manufacturers are using these tools, they need to trust that they will work seamlessly, both for ease of use and to justify the exploration of similar technologies that also have the potential to make manufacturers more agile.
IoT will bring “smart manufacturing” to fruition with better asset tracking
The Internet-of-Things (IoT) will perhaps go the longest way in streamlining manufacturing processes, assuming networks are robust enough to handle the wealth of data these applications can exchange. Sensors and beacons attached to devices placed all along the production line — from wearable beacons keeping track of employee heart rates in arduous work conditions, to tracking devices monitoring assets as they travel — give manufacturers a wealth of data from which they can cull actionable insights to improve their business functions from the top down.
Enabling all of these applications boils down to an agile, high performance network backed by an application-aware SD-WAN solution. Manufacturers can manage and prioritize performance down to the individual application session — whether it's Skype for Business, an IoT device or something in between — in order to avoid digital congestion and bottlenecks to meet business objective in the years to come.
Read more about how manufacturers and other network operators can implement application-aware SD-WAN solutions by reading our blog on the common themes for easy adoption.