Monday, July 15, 2013

Advanced Manufacturing Driving Faster WANs

Is it really different this time? The “Great Recession” has been not only deeper than others in our memory but something else has also happened. The recovery has been strong for business but weak for jobs. This has been credited to improvements in productivity beyond what anyone expected. Higher productivity directly translates into increased production without a corresponding increase in staffing. Is this the start of something new or a fluke of the current business conditions?

Today's manufacturing needs higher bandwidth for higher productivity.You’ve heard the expression “everything old is new again.” What’s new is a raft of new applications, techniques and processes. What’s old is the fact that, from time to time, the linear progress of business takes a leap up thanks to new technology. Personal computers were revolutionary in the office. Robots were revolutionary in the factory. It’s time for another leap.

It can be argued that most recent leap was staging for sometime and given a huge boost by the need to survive the protracted economic slowdown. Cloud computing is a perfect example. Before the cloud, everybody replicated and supported the IT infrastructure needed to operate the business. The cloud consolidates all of these resources under one roof where they can be more efficiently managed.

A side effect is that there are so many resources in the cloud that for any given customer it seems like a cornucopia. No matter how many servers and how many disk drives you need, there are always more available. Additionally, these resources have been automated so that provisioning can be almost instantaneous. Companies now have the opportunity to ramp up and ramp down IT infrastructure as fast as business conditions change. This is something new and a productivity improvement.

The data center with its racks and racks full of servers, disk drives and appliances has moved to the cloud. The in-house PBX telephone system is also gone. Only phones and PCs & tablets (thin clients) are needed on-site. The “big iron” is somewhere else and you rent rather than own it.

Here’s another wrinkle in this productivity revolution. Manufacturing is in the early stages of being completely rethought. Up till now, productivity improvements have been based automating tools. CNC machines replaced manually operated lathes, drill presses and milling machines with the same cutting tools under program control. Robots replaced human welders and assemblers by going through the same motions automatically.

What’s revolutionary is the 3D printer that eliminates the need for cutting and forming tools completely, and much of the assembly work too. A 3D printer is conceptually similar to a laser or ink jet printer but with the addition of a height dimension. They work by building the physical item layer by later. Each layer can be thought of something like a printed page. Stack all of those printed pages on top of each other without anything but the printed material bonded layer to layer and you have a physical item.

The advance in 3D printing is happening much faster than most people realize. It’s a little like the early days of PCs. You can buy or build hobby grade printers and use them to make mostly plastic pieces that would otherwise have been carved or injection molded. Industry is way beyond this stage, with 3D printers that make production quality parts out of plastic or metal. In fact, the process is so good that it has gone beyond making models and prototypes to creating the final manufactured component or product directly.

A recent report shows how the infrastructure needed for this new type of manufacturing is changing. Comcast announced that they have installed a 100 Mbps Ethernet Private Line connecting the Connecticut Center for Advanced Technology with its Advanced Manufacturing Center two miles away. Why? They needed increased bandwidth to support transfer of 3D computer drawings to the 3D printer. One application is creating jet engine parts using 3D printing technology.

What cloud computing, 3D printing and other innovations, like big data mining, have in common is a need for orders of magnitude increases in WAN bandwidth. T1 lines and DS3 connections may have been fine for Internet browsing and file transfers between business locations, but the massive data sets required to enable technologies like 3D printing need much larger pipes to work efficiently. Today, 100 Mbps is readily available and affordable by many businesses. Gigabit Ethernet over Fiber is common for larger and higher tech organizations. Carriers are now offering 10 Gigabit Ethernet in many metro areas and 100 Gbps bandwidth is available in select locations.

Is it really possible to save money with these advancements? It certainly is, especially when you factor in the enormous cost reductions that have taken place in the bandwidth industry. Connection prices at 100 Mbps and 1 Gbps are much, much lower than in years past. Just in time, too. These bandwidth services are just what’s needed to enable the new productivity improving business technologies.

Have you become bandwidth limited in your quest for higher performance in your own operations? If so, take a fresh look at fiber optic bandwidth prices and service options available for your business locations.

Click to check pricing and features or get support from a Telarus product specialist.

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