Op-Ed: Pa. Manufacturers need fiber optics now

As of 2019, Pennsylvania’s manufacturing industry accounted for 11.9% of the commonwealth’s total output, according to statistics from the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM). Following the global financial crisis of 2008, the sector has been on a trajectory of consistent growth, producing $93.75 billion at the end of 2018 – up from less than $74 billion in 2009. 

As an incredibly diverse economy, Pennsylvania manufacturing encompasses multiple verticals including pharmaceutical and medicine manufacturing, fabricated metal products, machinery, electronics, vehicle and aeronautic parts and even confectionary products. Clearly, this is an exciting part of the Pennsylvanian economy. But it’s also one that places strong demands on its existing networks – requirements that can increasingly only be solved by fiber optic network solutions. 

Let’s examine these demands further. Internet and manufacturing are not often thought of as going hand in hand, but thanks to new technologies, the manufacturing sector is adapting, network solutions are becoming more important than ever. 

Why digital transformation is the ticket

What does the future hold for Pennsylvania’s manufacturing sector? Yes, it is important to admit that the current pandemic has put a damper on the commonwealth’s economy. However, current restrictions are only temporary. 

Forbes notes that “many [manufacturers] are beginning to turn their attention to bouncing back and to how they can recover a sense of operational normality as quickly and fulsomely as possible after this pandemic is finally behind us.” The article also argues that data and supply chain intelligence will be crucial in helping those in the manufacturing sector accelerate their recovery. In other words, digital transformation is arguably a path back to success for many of Pennsylvania’s companies.

Digital transformation comes in many different forms. For many in the manufacturing industry, it has meant leveraging applications such as the Internet of Things, or IoT, and the Industrial IoT); Big Data analytics; advanced Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) and other “Industry 4.0” technologies. 

McKinsey & Company, the management consulting firm, defines Industry 4.0 as “the next phase in the digitization of the manufacturing sector.” Industry 4.0 promises significantly faster, more scalable and more cost-efficient production processes through the use of cutting-edge technologies like AI, robotics and 3D printing. 

As a whole, digitalization offers the manufacturing industry opportunities for enhanced scalability and operational cost savings. However, it also results in greater demands on existing networking infrastructure. For example, using Big Data and AI requires the use of private cloud edge and hyperscale data centers to process information in real time. Industry 4.0 applications need large amounts of bandwidth to run effectively. To realize the full potential of new, exciting technologies/applications, manufacturers will need communications networks that are highly available, reliable and customized to their specific requirements.

Time to upgrade: The need for fiber optic network solutions

In manufacturing, time equals money. When a device, server or application that’s instrumental to a business fails, every minute of downtime impacts production, and ultimately, revenue. Manufacturing companies leveraging legacy copper networks will overwhelm their infrastructure’s capabilities trying to implement new Industry 4.0 technologies. 

While relying on older solutions might have worked in the past, today’s manufacturers need to be able to embrace new digital technologies as they work to rebound now and cement their growth into the next decade. Already, some top Pennsylvanian companies are using 3D additive printing, RFID technology and real-time communication with automated machinery. As others throughout the commonwealth try to implement similar applications, they will need larger amounts of bandwidth and more speed than what most of their current network solutions can deliver.  

Most importantly, fiber optic networks don’t just power a manufacturer’s internal operations. They are also critical in enabling the use of a myriad of other mission-critical supports such as data center connectivity, disaster recovery services and secure and cloud-based applications. Simply put, fiber optic networks are faster, more reliable and more scalable than legacy copper-coax ones. Of course, there are multiple types of fiber-based solutions that run the gamut from dark fiber and managed wavelength services to software-defined wide area network (SD-WAN) and Metro Ethernet offerings. 

All that’s really important is that manufacturers within Pennsylvania are beginning to see that now is the time to embrace digital transformation and get ready to do more, faster. With the deployment of new fiber-optic networks, industrial companies can take advantage of the tools that can drive operational efficiencies and growth.

It’s Time to Decide

To put it simply, the future success of many of Pennsylvania’s manufacturing businesses can be directly tied to investments in fiber optic networks. Future-proofing Harrisburg’s production environment, for example, is not solely about adopting Industry 4.0 solutions. Instead, it’s about an industry-wide movement towards holistic digital transformations that mean leaving vulnerable legacy networks for optimized, scalable and secure fiber optic network architecture. In this way, today’s manufacturers can give themselves an advantage in recovering today while building resiliency for whatever tomorrow brings. 

Joe McGuinness is director of enterprise sales for DQE Communications. He can be reached at 412-275-7350 or [email protected].