Manufacturing is a highly cost- and time-sensitive industry. It relies on having high levels of uptime, productivity and throughput. This is why manufacturers across the world are increasingly drawing on new digital technologies to raise their game.

However, many British manufacturers are behind their global counterparts in digital manufacturing; often looking in awe at their Asian or even mainland European counterparts who seem to have successfully harnessed the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) and are reaping the benefits of big data analytics, factory automation, and extended supply chain connectivity.

Even leading, innovative UK manufacturers seem to be shying away from modernising their networks, and still use outdated technology with its inherent security risks and inefficiencies. Many feel there are justifiable reasons to remain on tried and tested, reliable equipment, even if it fails to yield the efficiencies of modern networking infrastructures. After all, the market demands a constant supply pipeline, and downtime costs can build up quickly.

But fear of downtime should not stop you from modernising your network - outdated technology will eventually fail. At worst, it could be exposing your business to avoidable security risks with older software systems being more vulnerable to attack.

What’s more, legacy systems could be holding you back from growing and being more efficient. Analyst firm Gartner has written that the impact of cloud and emergence of “postmodern” ERP is relegating highly customised ERP systems to "legacy" status in industries such as manufacturing, energy and distribution.

However, the answer isn’t necessarily wholesale replacement of your existing industrial systems. Today’s technologies don’t require a rip-and-replace approach to be effective, but can enhance what you already have.

In fact, it’s possible to gain value immediately by transforming your infrastructure step-by-step, through incremental modernisation efforts.

It begins with updating the network through a converged, modular digital platform, such as Cisco’s Connected Factory Solution. This allows you to connect your manufacturing equipment together, so you can monitor and manage your operation as a whole.

Having connected up your manufacturing plant, you can add automation and intelligence. This will produce data-driven insights for you: things you can act on to optimise your processes, to achieve greater uptime, and, ultimately benefit from having smarter and more efficient manufacturing.

In addition, your intelligent manufacturing plant will give you performance and utilisation data that will lead to new value-added offerings, such as predictive maintenance, quality control, plant-floor efficiency, and customer engagement.

Another major benefit that comes from network transformation solutions is stronger security across the organisation, by having a unified, secure, end-to-end network infrastructure. For example Cisco’s networking infrastructure has digital security built into it from the ground up: including encryption, identity access and control, and predictive analytics that can anticipate attacks and move to prevent them.

In many ways, the competitive pressures manufacturers face, coupled with the explosion in data and new computing capabilities, make modernising the network a necessity.

And in the future, having a manufacturing operation that has a strong digital backbone means you can much more easily exploit other emerging areas such as artificial intelligence, automation and robotics, additive technology such as 3D printing, and human-machine interaction.

With Cisco’s manufacturing solution, you don’t need to rip and replace your IT infrastructure. Digital transformation is a journey, and many functions can be switched on with software, which can provide advanced functions such as virtualisation, automation, orchestration and analytics.

One leading manufacturer that benefited greatly from digital transformation is appliance maker Whirlpool
which standardised globally on a Cisco platform. This led to it improving network availability and reducing costs. Whirlpool also experienced greater uptime and uninterrupted production; faster design innovation and time to market; and improved its workforce mobility.

Paper and packaging group, Mondi, is another global manufacturer that modernised its mixed legacy infrastructures. By adopting the Cisco TrustSec wireless architecture, it introduced secure, flexible working and support for mobile BYOD and guest devices. At the same time, it gained the ability to rapidly integrate newly-acquired companies onto its global, standardised WAN.

For manufacturers wanting to manage their network through the cloud, Cisco Meraki industrial and manufacturing solutions provide cloud-controlled Wi-Fi, switching, routing, and security. Its ruggedised hardware provides reliable connectivity in harsh environments.

Done correctly with Cisco, the benefits of network modernisation outweigh the risks and provide a secure upgrade path for your legacy infrastructure. By transforming your network, you can create a more agile, future-proofed and more secure network that will raise your uptime and lower your operational costs. After all, who can afford to be left behind?