Mar 21, 2024

Hyperconvergence in manufacturing: increasing efficiency through IT innovation

From silos to synergies: industrial production is at a crossroads. To remain competitive in rapidly changing markets, companies must overcome supply chain disruption and make progress with their decarbonization and digitalization goals.

From silos to synergies: industrial production is at a crossroads. To remain competitive in rapidly changing markets, companies must overcome supply chain disruption and make progress with their decarbonization and digitalization goals.

These challenges are overwhelming conventional IT infrastructures and the automation pyramid, which also encourages a silo mentality. Such systems block innovation and change, lead to inefficiency, prevent data integration, and make it more difficult to leverage synergies across the IT estate. Yet all these things are essential when running a modern manufacturing operation. That's why manufacturers are increasingly implementing hyperconvergence (hyperconverged infrastructure or HCI) as they transform their facilities into smart factories. This solution allows them to break down silos, free themselves from the automation pyramid, and achieve an agile, data-driven production environment.

What exactly does hyperconvergence mean, and why does it hold the key to the future of manufacturing? Jens Mueller, CEO of Ascon Systems and one of the pioneers of integrating hyperconverged infrastructures, provides key insights and context.

What does hyperconvergence mean?

Jens Mueller: Hyperconvergence refers to IT infrastructure that combines hardware and software, servers, storage, and networking capabilities to form a scalable solution. The resulting platform is managed and controlled as a single system via software-defined technologies. And this is where we see the big difference in comparison to conventional systems with hardware and software in silos that can only be configured by means of time-consuming reprogramming. Hyperconvergence opens up these systems and results in greater efficiency, flexibility, and scalability of the IT infrastructure while simplifying management and accelerating service delivery. That's why hyperconvergence is seen as laying the groundwork for Industry 4.0, which requires that systems be able to talk to one another.

How has hyperconvergence developed?

The term hyperconvergence comes from the world of IT. If we look back on the evolution of IT infrastructure, they were characterized by a clear distinction between servers, storage, and network components. Hardware and software were acquired separately and from different vendors. You had to configure and manage them separately, too. That led to significant complexity, inefficiency, and high costs. Convergent infrastructures emerged as a response to these limitations. Here, hardware components are preconfigured and pre-integrated. Once combined with the appropriate software, such infrastructures are designed to reduce complexity, enhance efficiency, and effectively manage the substantial data demands of our interconnected world. Hyperconvergence has evolved from this but is a completely new approach and the next stage of development. Here, everything is software-defined. Hyperconvergent systems consolidate physical hardware and use software to define and manage compute, storage, and network functions. This enables greater flexibility, scalability, and efficiency. Hyperconvergence thus represents the next big turning point in the IT world.

For which industries and companies is hyperconvergence important?

The focus of hyperconvergence is on increasing efficiency, reducing costs, and enhancing agility. These three factors are particularly important in manufacturing and automation, for instance for industrial equipment manufacturers, automakers, industrial suppliers, but also in pharmaceuticals and the healthcare sector in general. Hyperconvergence can accelerate productivity by providing flexible IT infrastructure you can scale rapidly. It offers better data management and promotes global collaboration because hyperconvergent infrastructures enable better teamwork across remote locations. We can see the positive impact for instance for our customer BMW. BMW has been testing our technologies at its Innovation Hub in Dingolfing to see how hyperconvergence in combination with digital twins affects efficiency. And of course with our technology partner NVIDIA as well.

What does this look like in practice?

Take the robot arm, for example: it has to move to do its work. It needs to be set up and assembled. That's a physical process. That, of course, will not change. How you control the robot arm and how adaptable it will need to be in the future, that's a completely different story than it was even 10 years ago. And in just a few years, there will be even more progress. Companies will have new possibilities for their production and be able to react with greater flexibility to the market. That, in turn, will give them the competitive advantage they need

How disruptive is hyperconvergence?

Hyperconvergence fundamentally changes the way companies design and manage their data centers and IT infrastructures. That makes it a strong disruptive force with respect to conventional technologies such as the automation pyramid. Although hyperconvergence has enormous disruptive potential for many industries, the degree of disruptiveness depends on the specific requirements and existing IT infrastructures of the respective company and the will to adapt and to innovate. In some cases, hyperconvergence can improve things as a gradual evolution. In other contexts, it can spur a revolutionary transformation of the organization's IT strategy.

What conditions facilitate hyperconvergence?

Technological advances such as 5G, edge computing, and TSN (time sensitive networks) are driving to the development of hyperconvergence enormously. Especially with respect to performance and real-time applications. They expand the potential of hyperconvergence by enabling new use cases and establishing the preconditions for even tighter integration between IT and OT systems. This is particularly important for smart manufacturing and Industry 4.0 initiatives. New connectivity technologies play a key role in interconnecting devices and services. They help expand the limits of what is possible with hyperconvergent infrastructures while facilitating acceptance and adoption across many industries.

What impact do hyperconverged IT infrastructures have in companies?

In the future, companies will run their production operations like a modern data center. Highly standardized with as little vendor lock-in as possible with highly centralized processes and the ability to virtualize everything across multiple levels. This will make production more reliable and, above all, more resilient.

Hyperconvergence makes it much easier for companies to combine with a blockchain, to implement standards and ensure transparency. This is also important for the traceability of products and value chains which are increasingly quickly becoming a legal requirement, but create challenges for companies that conventional IT structures are not able to handle.

Manufacturers can free themselves from the rigid infrastructures of the past with hyperconvergence, create the conditions for a rapid digital transformation and transfer their operations into a new era of agile production.

Find out more: Jens Mueller is a guest on the "Digital 4 Leaders" podcast and talks in session #72 about hyperconvergence, data and digital twins in production (in German only).

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