How are the data centres that support the UK manufacturing sector changing?


    The rapidly developing edge data centre industry is having an important role to play in the manufacturing sector, as production lines become increasingly reliant on IT. A panel of experts, taking part in a recent DCD Debate, highlighted the fact that the manufacturing sector is bucking the trend for migration to the cloud. However, resilience is becoming increasingly important, as digitisation becomes a priority.

    “Manufacturing has changed dramatically. Today, production lines cannot run without IT; and, without electricity, the IT will not run. We have to keep things working,” commented Mark Howell, Global IT Facilities Planning & Engineering, at Ford Motor Company.

    “Older factories need to adapt – infrastructure varies from being very advanced to being fairly old and this includes the electrical distribution and IT infrastructure. Making this resilient and keeping the production lines running is something that many companies are grappling with.”

    “Outsourcing applications to the cloud isn’t really conducive to the manufacturing process,” explained Victor Avelar, Director and Senior Research Analyst, Data Centre Science Centre, Schneider Electric. “We are seeing more on prem IT kit. In particular, servers are being placed in micro data centres – small racks filled with specific IT solutions that control a particular portion of the manufacturing process…” 

    He added that there is an even greater need for cooling and powering of this equipment. “The more it becomes tied into the operations technology – the robots, the machine, the conveyor belt technology – the more critical the IT becomes,” said Avelar. “Every machine is computer controlled…and these machines are connected to other machines. They need to be sequenced and running exactly at the right time. All that computing cannot be up in the cloud. We are having to put computing onsite and make it more robust.”

    To make the best use of the data and analytics to increase productivity and manage costs, many applications need to be run at the edge, very close to the load and this is being driven by bandwidth and latency considerations. Mark Bartlett, UK Advanced Manufacturing Leader, Arup, commented that Arup is witnessing increasing use of small, modular data centres and manufacturers want a lot more data and analytics. Arup is seeing more energy monitoring at a machine level, but facilities also want to have the ability to look at the quality of the power supply and investigate interruptions and spikes.

    Victor Avelar added that there will be increased use of energy storage – there is potential for manufacturers to participate in peak shaving and be financially rewarded by the utility. In the future, this could be an increasing trend.

    An in depth report on the debate will feature in the August printed edition of Mission Critical Power magazine.





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