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Virtualization Can Raise Manufacturing Efficiency

In manufacturing, virtualization helps companies by simplifying the management of IT and operational assets. Dealing with complex plant systems, tons of data, and tightly defined processes, manufacturers benefit from easier access to plant floor operations and control systems. Engineers can get the most out of technology systems by leveraging the convenience of virtualization. Sen. Amy Klobuchar told CNBC that manufacturing today is defined by advanced technological capability.

“The reality is that today’s manufacturing workers are as likely to operate robots as they are wrenches, and use math more than muscle – this isn’t your grandpa’s factory floor,” wrote Klobuchar.

Virtualization can improve IT efficiency, save time and reduce costs
Manufacturing Business Technology explained that the benefits of virtualization include hardware consolidation, less energy consumption, improved application load time, disaster recovery, and easier streamlining of processes. Because virtualization calls for hardware independence, it is much easier to manage software across a facility and implement changes. With individual terminals receiving information from one management operating system, the points of access are significantly reduced. Virtualization also enables companies to use servers to run multiple applications without conflict.

Consolidating hardware benefits manufacturers because IT and maintenance staff will spend less time moving from one terminal to the other, and they can spend more of their time focused on facility-wide technology concerns. Manufacturing Business Technology pointed out that virtual machines can extend the software lifecycle over 10 years. Additionally, because virtual terminals require much less energy than full platforms, virtualization results in energy savings for a plant.

Centralization of operational resources is easier with virtualization
Using virtualization, operators are able to access their workstations through a multitude of devices, noted Manufacturing Business Technology. Another main benefit to a virtualized environment is that critical hardware is kept out of harm’s way. Should something happen to a remote terminal, it can be easily replaced without having to rebuild software and load applications. It is important to mention that, using sophisticated virtualization configurations, operators can have the same functionality as if they were accessing the management operating system itself.

“Critical hardware is kept out of harm’s way.”

Another critical feature of virtualization is that it can make the streamlining of processes much easier. Since work applications and documents are centralized and rolled out to the individual terminals, this helps prevent data duplication, limit inconsistencies, and continually keeps operators and technicians on the same page with respect to new processes, or work protocols. Additionally, virtualization allows for better workflow management because an engineer can set up permissions that designate who can access which production process and when.

Disaster recovery is made easier through virtualization
Virtualization is also helpful as a disaster recovery plan, noted Most manufacturers know that system failures are a real possibility. Problems with controls, execution systems, or automated equipment can bring production to a halt altogether. System failures increase downtime, which can significantly impact revenue negatively. As such, it is important to have a plan in place that both protects the systems that run the hardware, and recovers them should they suddenly fail. Unlike with traditional systems, virtualization is easier to manage because of the centralized aspect, and it also eliminates the need for reinstallation and configuration – should the worst happen. Since virtual machines are already configured, the hours spent reconfiguring a traditional system can be put to better use elsewhere.

Virtualization can help companies better manage IT assets.

Virtualization offers a high return on investment
Tony Baker, Product Manager at Rockwell Automation told Manufacturing Business Technology, virtualization will eventually represent at least half of all automated systems in a manufacturing environment.

“In the world of corporate IT, 65 percent of new applications this year will be deployed in a virtual environment,” wrote Baker. “I would say that 10 to 15 percent of automation applications are now being deployed in a virtual environment. That’s up from almost zero a year ago. Virtualization is gaining traction and I expect that half of all automation applications will leverage virtualization in the next 5 years.”

The benefits of virtualization are too many to ignore. In terms of return on investment, virtualization will help companies raise efficiency, lower IT expenses, protect their production assets, and streamline processes across a facility. The cost benefit of these efficiencies far outweighs the initial investment in virtual terminals and the miscellaneous expenses it will require.