The digital factory in manufacturing: Connectivity

How will manufacturers usher in the next industrial revolution?

by AT&T Business Editorial Team

This post is the first in a three-part series that examines elements of the digital factory.

“The marriage of advanced manufacturing techniques with information technology, data, and analytics is driving another industrial revolution — one that invites manufacturing leaders to combine information technology and operations technology to create value in new and different ways. Advanced manufacturing — in the form of additive manufacturing, advanced materials, smart automated machines, and other technologies — is ushering in a new age of physical production. At the same time, increased connectivity and ever more sophisticated data-gathering and analytics capabilities enabled by the Internet of Things (IoT) have led to a shift toward an information-based economy.” — Deloitte Consulting analysts

Connectivity is linking manufacturers directly to consumers, opening new opportunities for creating revenue-generating services. It’s also providing constant streams of performance data and insights into end-user behaviors that are invaluable in driving new development. Connectivity and analytics make it possible to deliver a holistic picture of factory operations to manufacturers, enabling them to:   

  • lower maintenance costs   
  • increase asset life   
  • boost factory output

Machine-to-machine (M2M) communications is at the heart of this transformation. According to IDC Manufacturing Insights Practice Director Kim Knickle:

“IDC is seeing a major change in how companies use technology in manufacturing and its ability to remove the silos between operational technology (plant and other manufacturing equipment), information technology (software, hardware, networks), and consumer or personal technology (smartphones, tablets). Emerging M2M and mobile technologies are an important part of that change.”

Manufacturing generates twice as much data as any other industry, making it a prime candidate for new digitalized processes that can lead to substantial advances in time-to-market, and significant reductions in operating and maintenance costs.

A survey by AT&T and IDG Research Services reveals that 96% of those surveyed agree that optimizing operations with technology is vital to creating a competitive advantage. Furthermore, 92% say that the success of their companies is increasingly dependent on data from connected systems and devices. Respondents almost equally comprised IT and operations executives.

“Industry and academic leaders agree that digital-manufacturing technologies will transform every link in the manufacturing value chain, from research and development, supply chain, and factory operations to marketing, sales, and service,” a team of McKinsey analysts writes. “Digital connectivity among designers, managers, workers, consumers, and physical industrial assets will unlock enormous value and change the manufacturing landscape forever.”

Connectivity inside the plant can capture and integrate data from IoT devices and machines and send it to the cloud, increasing efficiency and reducing operational expenses through tools such as predictive maintenance. Similarly, data from connected trucks, drivers, and cargo enables cost-saving optimization and predictive maintenance while facilitating compliance with new electronic logging requirements.

Technologies that accelerate the ability to get actionable insights from data — such as secure end-to-end wireless data solutions; fast, plentiful bandwidth; mobile solutions; and solutions to manage those technologies — will deliver the competitive advantages that manufacturers crave. Reliable, secure connectivity is critical for realizing the full benefits of digital transformation.

Visit our manufacturing page to learn more about industry-specific solutions and trends.