Smart manufacturing, or the “digital factory,” is no longer the future—it’s already arrived. Manufacturers are in the process of putting 5G, the Internet of Things (IoT), advanced data analytics, and robotics to work to improve asset utilization and operating efficiency, as well as create new revenue streams from existing services.
The big question is: are their networks ready?
Manufacturers understand from first-hand experience the importance of network modernization to support their digital factories and reap the benefits. Manufacturers are energetically deploying 5G, IoT, and advanced data analytics across their operations, with AI and robotics being priority number one. Informed IT leaders realize their networks can’t currently support their new goals and are investing in intelligent infrastructures such as edge computing and software-defined wide- area networks (SD-WAN). Intelligent infrastructure like SD-WAN should help manufacturers modernize and defend cybersecurity worries that delay modernization.
A 2018 survey conducted by AT&T reached out to 318 senior IT executives working in the manufacturing industry. It found that very few believe their networks are currently set up to support emerging technologies. Only 19% thought AI use cases could be adequately supported by their current network. No more than 25% believed their network could support robotics. And the same doubt was present for IoT and data analytics use cases.
Today, SD-WAN is present in the networks of just 23% of the surveyed companies. Deploying SD-WAN is the logical progression for bringing intelligence to infrastructure. Multi-access edge computing and 5G are providing low-latency capabilities for technologies like augmented and virtual reality (AR/VR) which are increasingly being used in manufacturing. SD-WAN solves the issues of latency and security and creates a truly intelligent infrastructure.
The pace of technology innovation is extremely rapid, with advances like cloud computing, IoT, AR/VR, and software-defined networking causing many manufacturers to struggle with how to modernize their infrastructure and take advantage. There must be a strategic commitment and understanding among decision-makers that modernization should not be viewed as a cost, but rather as a business value.
Cybersecurity is at the top of the list when it comes to concerns over modernization and is seen as the biggest block to network modernization. Privacy concerns come in at a close second. The concerns center around IoT and all of the associated sensors that could provide potential backdoors into the network. SD-WAN can help manufacturers address these concerns by offering protection through centralized security management.
There’s little doubt that 5G is the future for smart manufacturing. Reduced latency is the key differentiator that is setting 5G apart from existing wireless connectivity solutions. Edge computing allows critical network functions and applications to be placed much closer to where they are needed. The result is a flexible and responsive future-proof network that is resilient, reliable, and secure.
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