Saturday, 8th August 2020

Industry 4.0: How data is essential for manufacturing’s future

By Michael Cade, Global Technologist at Veeam.

Industry 4.0 has become the dividing factor between the leaders and laggards in manufacturing. Rapidly evolving customer demands, along with ongoing economic uncertainty and financial pressures, means that digital transformation is firmly secured on the list of priorities. More efficient operations, detailed customer insight, and quicker time to market are just some of the promises that Industry 4.0 is making to manufacturers.

The financial benefits could also be significant. According to PwC, manufacturers across EMEA see their digital investments as driving revenue growth of 13% over the next five years. Meanwhile, those on the leading edge of digital adoption in the sector are already capturing over 50% of their revenue from digitally-enhanced or digitally-led products and services.

Those kinds of returns are a big driver in manufacturers becoming more dependent on digital technology, but with this reward comes risk. The proliferation of digital has significantly increased the pressure on IT teams to ensure business continuity, as IT downtime becomes more damaging than ever.

Drawing board to distribution – it’s all digital

No matter what stage of the manufacturing process, digital technology is to become inseparable from it. Design and development, operations or distribution – every stage is underpinned and often wholly reliant on digital platforms.

It’s also integral to today’s manufacturing supply chains, benefiting stakeholders and partners, as they enable closer integration and updates on the latest activity. Employees, meanwhile, are also finding big productivity gains in being able to be more collaborative and mobile in their everyday work.

In such a competitive and fast-moving environment, being able to act as fast as possible on the insight that digital technology offers is what will separate the market leaders from the market followers.

A call for continuity

This dependence on digital is doubling down the pressure on IT teams to ensure continuity of service. But manufacturing systems especially are rarely simple – data growth in itself presents numerous challenges, from location to security and recovery.

The challenge of keeping the lights on is also heightened by external threats. Cyber-attacks are only becoming more sophisticated - the WannaCry and Petya ransomware attacks of recent years underlines the immense damage these threats can do. Manufacturers can be brought to their knees by these if measures are not put in place and planned in advance. As more connected devices come online and Internet of Things (IoT) proliferates, even more points of entry are created for IT teams to manage, especially if employees use their own devices.

Old backup technology can also present a huge barrier to efficiency. Volvo Car Benelux, for example, had relied on individual dealerships backing up their physical servers on site to tape. However, the organisation found this approach increasingly infeasible, due to the cost of purchasing additional tape drives, the length process involved as well as the single point of failure it creates.  It all only increases the challenge of ensuring business continuity.

Downtime threats are impossible to ignore

IT downtime is a serious matter for any business, but it’s particularly serious for manufacturing businesses. Uninterrupted access to equipment, applications, data and processes is vital, especially given the tight turnaround times and just-in-time nature of modern production. For systems to work, every component needs to perform as it should, and outages at any point can wreak havoc elsewhere. Financial damages, both in immediate loss and opportunity cost, can be widespread and long-lasting – even putting companies permanently out of business.

It’s no surprise, then, that business’ demands for recovery are high. Manufacturing companies are especially vulnerable to situations where IT teams cannot meet the recovery requirements of the business. This is not uncommon across all industries; the 2019 Veeam Cloud Data Management report 69% of business and IT decision makers have situations where their IT’s capability for data recovery isn’t up to the level needed by the business, resulting in total costs of $20.1million per year. But in a sector where continuous and highly choreographed operations are critical, business continuity must be a particular imperative.

Four steps to data availability

Data availability then must be a priority for manufacturers. But what does that look like on the ground?

1.    Create a viable business continuity plan

A plan might seem straightforward on paper, but the true value of it is in the testing. Many can seem more than adequate until they fail in a test scenario. IT teams must be able to protect every critical business unit across the supply chain, without a negative fallout in employee or supplier experience. Once the plan and procedures are in place, stress testing must be a regular occurrence to make sure the implementation is as smooth as it can be.

2.    Manage your data intelligently

Continuity means availability, and any plan needs to have this at its heart. Solutions designed to meet the continuity challenges of virtualised and cloud-enabled manufacturing environments are the clear way forward. Choosing one that offers a recovery time of less than 15 minutes for all applications and data should meet the needs of most business areas and is a good benchmark to work from.

Volvo, for instance, backed up its on-premise virtual machines using the latest data availability solutions, which ensures that every dealer could recover a failed VM within minutes in the event of a fire or other catastrophe.

3.    Keep your business’ eyes open

Visibility and ongoing monitoring are key to preventing issues and responding to them before they escalate. Real-time monitoring and reporting on virtual environments enable IT teams to react to potential problems before operations can be brought down. Complete visibility of activity on both physical and virtual machines similarly helps IT teams quickly spot developing issues. Having clear insight in this way can also save time and money in meeting compliance requirements.

4.    Protect your present and your future

Almost half (44%) of business and IT decision makers say that deploying smarter data management initiatives will be critical to their success during the next two years. The introduction of any new technology needs to be balanced against ensuring data availability, to avoid constraining ongoing operations. The right data availability solutions can enable IT teams to test applications and upgrades before they go into a live environment. Veeam’s DataLabs On-Demand sandbox is one example offering this functionality. Data can also be managed, migrated and restored across a physical, virtual and cloud-based infrastructure without complex configurations or additional hardware investments – minimising the operational costs of introducing new infrastructure.

A foundation for Industry 4.0

Digital transformation is already bringing immense benefits to manufacturers and helping them bring them closer to their customers. Progressing towards Industry 4.0 will be critical for these organisations to secure their place in the future of the sector. But as manufacturers’ dependence on digital grows, business continuity is becoming more and more of a business imperative. By using the latest solutions, IT teams can build a reliable foundation of Cloud Data Management to underpin their digital systems. In this way, businesses can ensure that they’re not only prepared should the worst happen, but that they’re also able to fully embrace Industry 4.0.


In today’s climate of COVID-19 uncertainty, technology leaders are challenged to focus on delivering...
In the aftermath of COVID-19 financial uncertainty is, for most, among the top concerns of both IT a...
By W. Curtis Preston, Chief Technical Evangelist, Druva.
DW talks to Jim Crook, Senior Director of Marketing, CTERA, about the likelihood that the current im...
Here is what your business should do to maximise speed. By Veniamin Simonov, Director of Product...
Data growth has been on a steep trajectory, and IDC is expecting 103 zettabytes of data to be genera...
Disaster Recovery-as-a-Service (DRaaS) is often the first step organisations take on the path to clo...