Manufacturing is an industry with complex operations, where the success of any organisation lies in producing the right products, with higher quality and lower costs than the competition.

This requires companies to enable real-time visibility into operations at the plant floor and at the executive level to make intelligent decisions.

An increasing number of manufacturers are addressing industrial networking as a discipline.

An industrial network differs from a traditional network in its need for determinism, reliability, and speed in the transmission of data.

Industrial networks require equipment that can handle severe environmental conditions, vibration, and shock. Network outages are intolerable.

Any form of disruption is unacceptable and can lead to waste or contamination of in-process materials.

Aberdeen’s report Industrial Networking: Real-time Foundation for Manufacturing and the Enterprise reveals that leading manufacturers are bringing together traditional automation engineering with corporate IT to gain a visibility into network performance.

When industrial networking is approached properly, companies can enable real-time visibility into data in order to optimise production, maintenance, and safety.

Business Capabilities
To properly implement an industrial network, the Best-in-Class have implemented a combination of business and technology capabilities (Figure 1 and Figure 2).

The Best-in-Class enterprises understand the importance of having an executive sponsor and ownership for improving the network architecture of the facility.

This is an opportunity for CIOs and manufacturing executives to work together to change the corporate culture.

With a true budget holder, it becomes easier to obtain the funds needed to invest in equipment, services and training. With the developments in technology, it has blurred the traditional lines between the business (IT) domain and the real-time domain of manufacturing IT.

This in turn has created a cultural battle between manufacturing IT and corporate IT.

The Best-in-Class are forming cross-functional teams that include both IT and manufacturers to build out a network strategy that has a balanced view from all groups.

Issues such as network topology, isolation, security, and network management are critical - and the reason that Best-in-Class are developing teams with the domain knowledge to design, implement, and manage such environments.

Indeed, these issues cannot be overlooked, and they drive the need for an organisation to create better alignment between corporate IT and plant IT.

Technology Enablers
The network architecture is essential to enabling the manufacturer’s ability to gain real-time visibility into operations at both the plant floor and executive level.

When the network architecture isn't developed with both of these goals in mind, it leads to islands of disconnected networks from the field level, to the manufacturing operations level, and up to the enterprise level (Figure 2).

In turn, this leads to having multiple networks at the same layer (with multiple skill sets and software) that all do the same thing.

As illustrated in the graphic below, by utilising industrial Ethernet as the backbone for the network, manufactures can more easily integrate their manufacturing and enterprise networks.

In doing so, they are better able to connect the multiple applications at the field, manufacturing, and enterprise levels (Figure 2).

Recommended Actions
Over the years, Aberdeen's research has documented the progression and adoption of industrial Ethernet in the manufacturing environment.

Before an organisation plans on implementing industrial Ethernet, they must understand that it requires a combination of organization restructure, adherence to defined best practices, and the ability to have real-time visibility throughout the organisation.

Aberdeen offers the following recommendations to help drive the necessary performance improvements.

 - Understand the business and operational benefits of an Ethernet-based plant network
 - Don't build business cases solely on the potential for reduced hardware and network costs
 - Engage an executive sponsor
 - Establish an executive-led vision of flexible and integrated industrial and corporate networks as a true competitive advantage for the organisation that is supported by Line of Business (LOB) and IT leadersEnable collaboration between manufacturing and IT
 - As the technology chasm between the enterprise and plant floor closes, it is important to enable collaboration between these two groups to gain the domain knowledge necessary to design, implement, and manage the infrastructure
 - Close the gap between plant floor and enterprise systems. Network performance must be able to match the real-time nature of the plant floor, which can help manufacturers gain critical insight into manufacturing performance. Using industrial Ethernet as the backbone of the industrial network will enable manufacturers to close this gap.

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Nuris Ismail is research analyst, manufacturing at Aberdeen Group