Manufacturers were already digitizing their processes before March 2020. The COVID-19 pandemic gave IT and operational professionals in the manufacturing space reasons to want to move faster. Teams that can’t work on the factory floor (pandemic, weather, closed roads, etc.) need a way to monitor and control processes over the network. Supply chain woes—like wildly fluctuating demand and the container ship that blocked the Suez Canal—highlighted the need for agility. A skilled labor shortage has further accelerated plans for automation.

Digitization brings visibility and agility

The fourth industrial revolution, also known as Industry 4.0, lays the foundation of modern digital manufacturing. It brings together cyber and physical systems, automation, industrial IoT, and better vertical and horizontal integration.

The network has a starring role in digital manufacturing, connecting people and applications in any location to factory-floor assets like sensors, actuators, cameras, and industrial automation and control systems (IACS). Benefits of digitization include improved overall equipment effectiveness (OEE) uptime, product quality, worker safety, cybersecurity, 24/7 asset monitoring and faster new product introduction and accelerating plant buildouts.

Four essentials for manufacturing networks

As IT and operational professionals work to innovate traditional manufacturing facilities and operations, we must consider that digital manufacturing requires more networks. Here are guidelines for making sure your manufacturing network is up to the task.

Use network devices specifically designed for industrial environments like factories

In addition to high performance and reliability, industrial routers, switches, and firewalls need to withstand harsh environmental conditions like extreme temperatures, shock, vibration, and humidity. They also need to be able to control access, have support for real-time industrial protocols, and enable the flow of key operational data to move across applications in the cloud. Further, the operational networks they build need to be scalable and highly resilient. We designed our industrial routers and switches to meet these requirements.

Give IT and OT visibility and control into what they care about

The manufacturing network is a joint project of the IT and OT teams. If you’re on the IT team, you want a solution that works with your existing network management and security applications, and doesn’t require significant training or disruption. You want to automate network maintenance and quickly identify and solve performance issues, especially in this business-critical space. If you’re on the OT team, you’re probably not an IT expert. You want visibility of issues that impact availability, product quality, workforce effectiveness and straightforward recommendations to resolve them. Cisco DNA Center – proven in the largest IT networks – meets all these needs. It automates time-consuming manual tasks, continuously monitors network health, and provides reports and controls on an easy-to-use dashboard. Cisco Cyber Vision gives you visibility into assets and processes.

For agile manufacturing, look for “plug-and-play” deployment

Manufacturers are simultaneously expanding production, hyper-customizing products, improving operations, and launching new products and services. To achieve these goals, you need the agility to scale product capacity, change product mix, and reallocate resources as needed. Quickly shift networking and production resources where you need them using Cisco DNA Center’s plug-and-play onboarding and provisioning.

Pay careful attention to cybersecurity

Cybersecurity starts with knowing everything that is connected to your industrial network, who’s talking to each other and what they are saying. Cisco Cyber Vision automatically takes a complete inventory. OT teams use a graphical interface to create production zones (aka network segments) containing all assets that need to communicate. (The painting controller doesn’t need to talk to the assembly-line controller.) Cisco Identity Services Engine (ISE) deploys polices that block unintended communications between segments to keep malware infections from spreading. Cisco Cyber Vision also takes a baseline of each asset’s usual communications patterns, alerting OT and IT teams to unusual behavior that could be a sign of a security breach.

Prepare to do more with less

The manufacturing skills shortage has widened the skills gap, with fewer experts left on the plant floor to prevent mistakes and solve crises. Connecting your plant floor helps you do more with less. A resilient network with the four qualities I’ve described—rugged devices, IT and OT collaboration, simpler and agile network management, and cybersecurity—helps you proactively identify potential problems, discover the cause, and resolve them before they affect production or quality.

Read how Nissan uses a Cisco IoT solution to digitize the production line for the powertrain of its new electric vehicle, the Nissan Ariya.


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