Our knowledge to you.

From Big Steel to Big Data and Robotics: A Path Forward for Pittsburgh’s Manufacturing Industry

What defines the American spirit? Throughout the course of history, we’ve seen glimpses of it. The American spirit can be easily seen in the aftermath of events like Pearl Harbor or the attacks on 9/11 when Americans united for a common cause, whether to aid the victims, defend the country abroad, or raise funds for vital charities.

This resilience isn’t just limited to the pivotal moments of our nation’s history. In many ways, the American spirit is embodied in the ongoing transformation of our lives, cities, and economies. Take Pittsburgh, for example. As a city known for its steel, iron, and glassworks, it has engineered an astute transformation, incorporating technological innovation around robotics, software engineering, and 3D printing within its manufacturing sector. But what powers this fusion of the old with the new? Where electrical grids, rail lines, motorways, and air transport once revolutionized the ability of manufacturers to scale upwards, fiber optic networks are now the new frontier in ensuring the path forward for the manufacturing sector.

Pittsburgh’s Flourishing Manufacturing Sector: A Word on Industry 4.0

Despite the decline of big steel in Pittsburgh, manufacturing isn’t dead by any means. Catalyst Connection’s Manufacturing Employment Demand Study says that the area will need to fill 30,000 manufacturing jobs over the next decade. Opportunities for machinists abound in equipment like robotic arms and 3D printers. Investment capital firms also sense budding opportunities coming out of the marriage of manufacturing and technology. Carnegie Foundry LLC, for example, expects to launch eight to10 robotics companies within the next four to five years alone.

So, what’s involved in ensuring the success of the manufacturing industry as it increasingly pivots towards adopting modern technology? The simple answer is fiber optic networks, and here’s why.

To break it down into more detail, the infusion of technology within the industrial setting can be characterized as Industry 4.0 and involves four key premises, according to McKinsey & Company:

  • New ways for humans and machines to interact (i.e., advanced robotics)
  • Improved ability to transfer digital instructions to the real world (i.e., 3D printing)
  • New analytics and business-intelligence capabilities (i.e., sensors, software, etc.)
  • An exponential rise in data volumes, computational power and bandwidth needs.

McKinsey claims these digitally enabled advances can improve productivity efficiencies by 15 to 20% and reduce machine downtime by 30 to 50%. So, it’s no surprise that manufacturing firms are taking notice. Industry 4.0 promises to make manufacturing significantly faster, more scalable and more cost-efficient. For industry leaders to realize the full potential of digitally enabled advances, however, they must be able to deploy a communications network that is highly available, reliable and resilient.

The Role of the Network in Supporting Pittsburgh Manufacturing

One of the key requirements of Industry 4.0 applications is the need to share large amounts of data from multiple devices in real-time. Many existing industrial network solutions are built on mature but relatively slow network technologies. And as the number of devices connected to industrial networks rises, and the volume of data they produce increases, the capacity shortfall can become a bottleneck. In the search for additional capacity, there is growing interest in the development of industrial networks based on faster and more resilient underlying technologies that can deliver the necessary bandwidth and availability.

In Pittsburgh, for example, some of the largest and best-known manufacturing companies have taken advantage of technological developments such as 3D additive printing, RFID technology and real-time communication with automated machinery. However, the old copper wire infrastructure they relied on for incoming revenue, communications and manufacturing processes was not reliable enough to support these essential business functions. When they lost network connectivity, their operations ground to a halt. For these companies, a customized dark fiber network enabled them to effectively perform their business functions with cutting-edge technology at guaranteed high speeds and exceptional network performance.

Charting a Path Forward

Regardless of whether an organization manufactures autonomous vehicles, chemicals or consumer goods, the goal of any production environment is to improve cost and labor efficiencies. Digitization offers the manufacturing industry opportunities for significantly faster, more scalable and more cost-efficient production processes. But future-proofing the production environment is not solely about adopting Industry 4.0 solutions. It means leaving vulnerable legacy networks for optimized, scalable and secure network architecture, which can accommodate more devices and nodes while delivering the requisite network reliability and performance today and tomorrow. Contact us today to make the switch!