It’s no secret that the world of manufacturing is changing fast. The “fourth industrial revolution”, a.k.a. Industry 4.0, is leading to the digitization of just about every stage in the manufacturing process. Of course, a shift from a primarily analog and mechanical world to one where digital is at the forefront means increased bandwidth requirements, larger potential attack surfaces for cybersecurity exploits, and a drastic increase in the sheer amount of network-connected devices. This leads to an interesting question: Should manufacturers keep IT in-house, or consider MSPs for manufacturing?

There’s no one-size-fits-all answer, and for most businesses, this isn’t a binary choice but a spectrum. That said, it often makes business sense to offload complexity, just one of the many MSP benefits for manufacturing, to companies that specialize in them. This is particularly true when you consider that the industry already faces a large skills gap.

Bridging the skills gap

According to a Deloitte study, manufacturing in the US alone is expected to have 2.1 million unfilled jobs by 2030. Part of this trend is due to skilled workers retiring or leaving the manufacturing sector, but that doesn’t explain it all. One of the biggest drivers is the continued digital transformation of manufacturing.

The skills required for the modern manufacturing industry have evolved. In 2018, Deloitte described the future of work personas in manufacturing. Roles like Smart QA Manager, Drone Data Coordinator, Predictive Supply Network Analyst, and Digital Twin Engineer. It’s easy to see there’s an increased focus on data, analytics, and IoT devices in the sector. Digital technology is now the norm in manufacturing and one of the key drivers of business value. The nature of these jobs explains also how the industry’s networks are evolving in response.

Specifically, these three macro trends are shaping the manufacturing industry (buzzword time!):

Industry 4.0

We can group manufacturing trends like smart factories, 3D printing, automation, and robotics under the Industry 4.0 umbrella. Fundamentally, the idea behind Industry 4.0 is simple and powerful: modern digital technologies can make the industry more efficient, innovative, and safer.

Rise of IoT

To enable Industry 4.0, we need IoT devices. Network-connected sensors, cameras, and other smart devices capture and transmit the data required for analytics, and make it possible to automate workflows. The Industrial IoT (IIoT) market — the subset of IoT for industrial applications — is already large. And it’s still growing at an impressive rate. A report from Meticulous Research projects the IIoT market will exceed a 16% compound annual growth rate (CAGR) from 2021 to 2027 and grow to $263.4 billion.

AI and ML

Once you have all that data from IoT sensors spread throughout the manufacturing floor, you enable plenty of artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) use cases. Predictive maintenance and forecasting are textbook examples, but there are plenty more, like visual inspections using ML and computer vision to detect product defects and package damage.

AI and ML can also enable collaborative robots (cobots) to increase productivity and reduce the risk of injury by handling moderately complex manufacturing tasks that used to require human labor.

MSP IT solutions for the manufacturing industry

manufacturing facility

In addition to changing how work gets done, these trends are changing how data flows across a manufacturing company’s network. Not only is more data flowing between devices to enable analytics and A.I., but there are now network-connected sensors and embedded systems everywhere. As a result, manufacturing networks are denser, more complex, and require more bandwidth than ever before.

Monitoring and managing these networks is no simple task, and network engineering isn’t usually a manufacturing organization’s core competency. In many cases, recruiting, training, and maintaining a skilled in-house IT team simply isn’t the most efficient way for a manufacturing business to spend its time. MSP benefits for manufacturing include offloading IT support to a third party and focusing on optimizing their core business.

Key benefits of an MSP for manufacturing organizations include:

  • Industry expertise. Designing, implementing, monitoring, and managing modern manufacturing networks requires a broad set of skills. A manufacturing network will often include a wide range of network devices, software, and connectivity mediums like WiFi, LoRaWAN, fiber, etc., each with their own nuances. Unless you already have a team of experts on staff, “getting it right” is hard (and “getting it wrong” can be expensive”). An MSP with experience in the space can help balance cost and performance tradeoffs without compromising uptime, compliance, or cybersecurity requirements.
  • Predictable pricing. Outsourcing IT services for manufacturing allows businesses to pay a fairly predictable fee to maintain their networks. This helps reduce or eliminate the cost of employee turnover and unexpected break/fix calls when you don’t have the in-house staff to resolve an issue.
  • Reduced downtime and improved network performance. A network designed and managed by engineers that specialize in a space is likely to have less downtime than one designed and maintained by IT generalists. In a world where downtime means lost productivity and revenue, this alone can be enough to justify outsourcing IT services for manufacturing. Similarly, expertly designed and managed networks tend to perform better.

Bonus: Auvik is an MSPs secret weapon

Auvik Network Map
Source: Auvik Networks

As you might expect, network monitoring and management from an MSP’s perspective is different from in-house IT. MSPs are responsible for multiple client sites that often have high vendor diversity and varying performance requirements. MSPs need network management tools that enable them to meet their unique requirements, live up to SLAs, and delight their customers. And they need to do that in the most cost-effective way!

This is where a network monitoring and management software solution like Auvik shines. But how exactly can Auvik power MSP benefits for manufacturing companies we’ve been talking about? Let’s take a look:

  • Simple onboarding and device discovery. Auvik’s automatic network discovery and network mapping features make it easy for MSPs to quickly onboard clients. Instead of spending days documenting and mapping a network, Auvik makes it possible to gain deep network visibility in under an hour. Not only does this make MSPs more efficient, but it also helps ensure they’re getting an accurate count of the number of devices deployed across a network.
  • Easy multi-site network management with customization. MSPs can discover and logically isolate multiple sites from multiple clients under a single Auvik account. They can then customize Auvik to meet the requirements of specific clients and use cases.
  • Vendor agnostic support. While standardization across clients is ideal for MSPs, it usually isn’t the case in practice. With support for over 15,000 devices from 700+ vendors, Auvik makes it easy to support a wide range of network devices.
  • Enhanced security. Auvik prioritizes data isolation, compliance, and security across the platform. This is especially helpful for globally distributed manufacturing companies and clients. All communication between the Auvik collector and the cloud is encrypted with a minimum of TLS v1.2 encryption, data at rest is encrypted using AES-256, and all user accounts require 2FA. You can learn more about Auvik’s security here.
  • Faster and more precise troubleshooting. With real-time alerts, automated network documentation, detailed logs, and network performance data using features like TrafficInsights, Auvik enables MSPs to quickly become aware and remediate a client’s network issues. Whether that means identifying and addressing bandwidth hogs or increasing “mean time to innocence” by proving it’s not the network, Auvik gives you the data you need in real-time.
  • Automated configuration backups. “Golden configs” can save the day when something goes wrong. With Auvik, MSPs can automatically maintain up-to-date network configurations and a snapshot of historical configurations. This makes it easy to restore or review configurations as needed.

Of course, it’s one thing to tout these features. It’s another to prove them in the field. And Auvik has done that too. For some real-world examples, check out our MSP case studies to see why many MSP benefits for manufacturing is just one facet of how you can increase your clients, increase your service offerings, all while increasing your efficiency!

If you’d like to try Auvik for yourself, sign up for a free 14-day trial today!

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