Prior to the pandemic, manufacturing as an industry was well on the way to transformation with the adoption of Industry 4.0 technologies such as robotics, automation, AR/VR, additive manufacturing (3D printing), and the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT). Nonetheless, the disruption of supply chains we’ve seen as a consequence of the pandemic has only reaffirmed the need to compress the timeframe for digital transformation. How manufacturers adapt—and how quickly—will differentiate the survivors from the rest. With that in mind, let’s take a look at three ways the Meraki platform helps facilitate this transformation for our manufacturing customers.
Harness Wi-Fi 6 for the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT)
One key component of digital transformation that smart factories are embracing is the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), where everything from robots to forklifts to tooling carts are being connected to networks. This connectivity centralizes control, increases visibility, and leverages analytics to improve efficiency, reduce downtime, and make smarter predictions. With so many wireless devices requiring network access, providing a strong Wi-Fi 6 foundation is critical to ensuring consistent and high-performance IIoT deployments. Also known as the 802.1ax standard, Wi-Fi 6 has the potential to increase average throughput per user by a factor of four, thereby granting manufacturers the raw material (throughput) they need to fully harness the promise of IIoT.
Monitor smart factories with MT environmental sensors
Sensor technologies have allowed manufacturers to take advantage of big data to improve manufacturing processes, predict failure, and ultimately improve the efficiency of modern smart factories. We recently grew our platform to include environmental sensors as a standard component of network deployments. Meraki MT is a family of environmental sensors (indoor temperature/humidity, indoor leak, door open/close) that provide real-time remote visibility and monitoring to help protect assets and facilities 24/7.We imagine this technology to be initially deployed in IT closets, ensuring that critical infrastructure uptime is maintained, but there’s no reason to stop there. Wherever manufacturers need to monitor environmental conditions, we can help by simplifying the set-up process—MT environmental sensors can be provisioned in seconds, as they are battery-powered and use Wi-Fi 6 wireless access points and MV smart cameras as gateways to connect to the network.
Become adaptable with ecosystem partners
To thrive, the modern manufacturer needs to be able to innovate and scale against the backdrop of a complex global supply chain. They must also be able to respond to a diversity of disruptive external pressures, and do so quickly. The Meraki platform makes it easy to take advantage of opportunities as they arise. With the help of open APIs, paired with a community of technology partners, Meraki can support a huge array of potential use cases outside traditional “networking” arenas. For example, one such ecosystem partner, Arista Flow, has an asset tracking app that gives the real-time location of everyone in a facility using Bluetooth tags and Meraki Wi-Fi 6 access points, allowing any employees left behind in an emergency situation to be identified and quickly located.
The network has always been about providing connectivity. Without a strong foundation of connectivity, manufacturers will be slow to adopt Industry 4.0 technologies.
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Cisco recently hosted their annual Virtual Manufacturing Summit—which included manufacturing executives, solution providers, and industry thought leaders—to address the ways that manufacturers can provide a safer and more secure workplace while maintaining high levels of factory uptime and worker efficiency.
The two-day event focused on how IT and OT groups within manufacturers must work closely to ensure safe and reliable operations while increasing productivity and profitability. During the Summit, Cisco’s SVP of Global Manufacturing and Logistics shared best practices around business resiliency in a post-pandemic environment.
The summit also included a breakout session with Bossa Nova Robotics, a Cisco Meraki customer. Founded in 2005 as a spin-off from the Robotics Institute at Carnegie Mellon University, Bossa Nova is a developer of advanced robotics technology designed to enable retailers to collect and process real-time intelligence about their inventory. The robots autonomously roam store aisles multiple times per day to confirm that each product is on the right shelf and has the right price. Bossa Nova’s robots are currently operating in over 350 stores globally.
During the session, Todd Shipway, Director of IT & Robot Communications at Bossa Nova, discussed how they leverage Meraki solutions in conjunction with robots to monitor the plant floor for safety and security. Shipway discussed the need to automate as much as they can in a post-pandemic world when it comes to manufacturing. He also discussed how Cisco Meraki has impacted their workflow during the pandemic and beyond.
As Shipway puts it, “As of right now we are 99% remote. The robots are still there and being tested and the Meraki solution has allowed us to keep an eye on our infrastructure.” To learn more about how Bossa Nova utilizes Meraki, explore their case study.
Learn more about Meraki products and explore how our solutions address critical manufacturing scenarios by visiting our website to get a deeper dive.
Security cameras have long been used in many different business settings to protect against theft and keep an eye out for suspicious behavior. Only fairly recently, though, have manufacturers recognized the unique value that cameras can bring to warehouses, distribution centers, and factory floors. Besides obvious applications like monitoring for the theft of valuable raw materials, here are a few innovative ways manufacturers can use cameras to improve their processes and make their operations more efficient.
1. Safely monitor automated machinery in demanding production environments
Advanced manufacturing operations, especially those that involve converting raw materials into finished goods, often involve extreme temperatures, loud noise, and dangerously fast-moving machinery. It’s important for businesses to not only track the reliable and efficient operation of this (usually automated) equipment, but also ensure the safety of employees on the plant floor.
Thanks to ruggedized cameras built to withstand challenging conditions, manufacturers can keep a close eye on machinery from afar, minimizing employees’ direct exposure to potentially hazardous equipment. In addition to real-time monitoring, staff in the control room can review previously recorded video footage. This can help them identify patterns (say, if a piece of equipment struggles with a certain type of material time and time again) and make changes quickly to fix issues.
2. Keep workers on the same page
The more sophisticated a manufacturer’s operations, the harder it is for employees to stay in sync. Because those working in manufacturing environments have to lend their undivided attention to their surroundings, it’s harder for them to always stay connected to other employees, even those in the same building.
Strategically positioning cameras and hooking them up to video monitors placed where employees can see them can help workers stay on top of activity around the facility. For example, at a food distribution center, employees inside the building can remotely watch as delivery trucks approach and then work together to help unload and transport the food. Setting up configurable video walls can help workers monitor the footage from multiple cameras placed around a facility.
By empowering lower-level employees to work together more seamlessly, cameras can ease management burdens and help eliminate information silos.
3. Monitor the product journey across different sites
As manufacturers expand their operations and increase the number and size of their facilities, monitoring activities across multiple sites becomes increasingly difficult. Goods often travel from one location to the next, making it important for manufacturers to track product loss and delivery delays. Cameras placed in and around plants make monitoring and tracking goods simple and straightforward for workers as well as plant managers.
Of course, it’s not as simple as mounting a few cameras: the footage from those cameras needs to be easily accessible from anywhere. If video is only accessible at the site itself, it can’t be efficiently shared across different locations and users. The best way to accomplish cross-site sharing is to ensure the video can be viewed through a secure portal, like the Meraki dashboard.
4. Watch for product loss and accidents in the supply chain
Wasted resources are the bane of any manufacturer’s operations, whether it’s raw materials or time. While increases in manufacturing automation have certainly helped to standardize operations and minimize waste caused by user error, humans still play a crucial role in many processes. Cameras can help manufacturing staff easily monitor for product loss and catch accidents before they impact operations downstream.
The food manufacturing space experiences some form of product loss on a fairly regular basis. With high volumes of product being processed regularly, even a small amount of loss can have a substantial financial impact. Just ask Noosa Yoghurt, a premier purveyor of delicious flavored yogurt. At the company’s Bellvue, Colorado facility, cameras deployed on the plant floor help staff look out for incidents of spilled or contaminated milk. According to Network Technician Brandon Colter, these cameras helped the company save at least a few thousand dollars less than a year after the initial deployment. Watch Noosa’s story:
Meraki MV security cameras bring Meraki’s legendary ease-of-use and advanced cloud management capabilities to the camera space. With Meraki MV, manufacturers can ensure quality control, easily monitor activities across multiple locations, and improve the overall efficiency of their operations. To learn more about the benefits manufacturers can gain from deploying Meraki MV, check out the MV for Manufacturing solution guide.
While numerous technologies are involved in helping manufacturers embrace the possibilities of Industry 4.0 — in essence, the “smart factory” — simple network management and top-notch network security are at the core of next-gen manufacturing. That’s why CIOs and COOs alike have prioritized establishing rock-solid, easy-to-manage and simple-to-scale networks.
Here a few ways deploying Cisco Meraki technology in the factory and beyond can help manufacturers drive process improvements and become more competitive.
Minimize Production Downtime
Every manufacturer recognizes the damaging impact that production downtime can have on manufacturing operations. Just a few minutes of downtime can cost large enterprises thousands or even millions of dollars, making constant uptime a key priority for decision makers in both the IT and OT departments. Meraki helps minimize downtime by simplifying remote network management, helping admins respond quickly to potential issues, and by staving off dangerous security threats.
Traditional networking infrastructure relies heavily on on-site management. And a solid network is key to preventing downtime, especially with so much production equipment being interconnected. Since maintaining an on-site IT staff at every location can be cost-prohibitive, the ability for a central IT staff to manage networks from anywhere can make a huge difference. With Meraki, admins can use real-time tools built into the dashboard, such as remote packet capture and cable testing, to identify and diagnose issues before they cause major network problems.
Additionally, as Internet-connected manufacturing equipment is increasingly embraced by IT and OT staff, a constantly updated unified threat management (UTM) system is crucial to keeping malicious cyber threats from infecting production equipment. Other features available with the Meraki solution, such as Auto-VPN and SD-WAN, help manufacturers achieve 24/7 uptime and connectivity at all sites.
Enable Mobility — Without the Headaches
In the manufacturing world, mobile technologies present an amazing opportunity to modernize production by giving plant managers and executives immediate access to real-time production information, such as production output and inventory numbers. While manufacturers absolutely should embrace these opportunities for greater information sharing and collaboration, it’s crucial to provide the right infrastructure for mobile devices. Centralized management helps ensure that devices are used to their fullest potential, without interfering with the production process. This requires deep conversations between the IT and OT departments.
Such collaboration may, for example, reveal the opportunity to integrate certain apps with production equipment. Company executives can use the resulting data to meet customer demand. Pushing the app to the right devices, configuring it correctly, and training employees on how to use the app are shared responsibilities of both departments. Meraki Systems Manager, Cisco’s enterprise mobility management (EMM) solution, can help IT seamlessly push apps and keep them updated. Systems Manager can also help manufacturers meet certain requirements for mobile device usage, whether by disabling mobile device cameras on confidential production line environments, locking devices to a single app, or preventing access to confidential data if a mobile device is taken outside of the production facility.
In many ways, manufacturers share the same opportunities and challenges as any other company when it comes to mobility. The BYOD (bring your own device) phenomenon has allowed all kinds of enterprises to make their employees more productive, even though security concerns are always present. Similarly, manufacturers can benefit heavily from enabling mobility, but using the right management tools is crucial to maximizing the benefits while minimizing the headaches.
The bane of every manufacturer’s existence is waste, whether it’s wasted time, wasted effort, or wasted materials. Even though eliminating waste entirely is a utopian ideal, the prevalence of automated machinery and other advanced technology that provides insight into production activity serves as evidence of manufacturers’ deep interest in minimizing waste. Making further progress on minimizing waste requires IT and OT to collaborate.
Why does IT-OT integration matter for waste minimization? Because waste — like many of the challenges manufacturers face — is too large of an issue for a single department to address. While waste in manufacturing occurs mainly on the OT side, expecting OT to wave a magic wand and minimize waste on its own is unrealistic in the interconnected factory of the 21st century. In fact, OT needs IT to deploy the right technology and connect the right teams with the right information to properly address waste. From a network connectivity standpoint, IT can minimize energy consumption using Meraki switches by applying schedules to certain switch ports. For instance, IT can automatically turn PoE devices off at specific times if 24/7 operation isn’t required. The aforementioned ability to centrally manage multiple networks through a single dashboard also helps prevent waste by minimizing the need for on-site maintenance.
Perhaps the most interesting application of Meraki technology in manufacturing from a waste minimization standpoint is the use of Meraki MV cameras as a sensor to intelligently monitor processes on-site. The ease of deployment and simple monitoring capabilities of the Meraki MV cameras are just the start; the cameras also allow IT and OT personnel to use motion heat maps to see movement on the factory floor and eliminate the need for an NVR (network video recorder) to save costs. Noosa Yoghurt, a leading manufacturer of yogurt in the United States, deploys the Meraki MV to mitigate product loss and help employees keep track of activities across the factory floor. (Check out Noosa’s story here.)
IT and OT may previously have been content to occupy two mindsets (and two different parts of the building), but Industry 4.0 requires that they come together to address key challenges manufacturers face today, including downtime, mobility, and waste. With Meraki technology, manufacturers can decrease costs, reduce waste, improve efficiency, and increase visibility of operations across the manufacturing plant. Ultimately, Meraki aims to simplify powerful technology and help IT focus on more strategic goals — which in manufacturing includes close collaboration with the OT team.