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Why manufacturing facilities need software defined networks

Vijay Anand
Feb 26, 2024

Picture the factory of the future. Thousands of devices – production machinery, motors, pumps, sensors, cameras – all connected, collecting detailed data, and communicating seamlessly.

This reliable data flow means clever algorithms can monitor the entire facility, and make subtle adjustments to optimize efficiency, energy use, and productivity. A machine fault is detected, an alert goes out and an engineer is booked. A new IoT software patch is released, and all the devices are updated without anyone noticing. A data intensive maintenance system is deployed, and the IT team increases the Wi-Fi bandwidth to ensure it works seamlessly.

This is all made possible by several innovations, one of which is Software Defined Networking, or SDN.

SDN involves digitizing all moving parts of the network, so the entire thing can be joined up and controlled through a single user interface. Changes and updates can be made consistently across the network, at the push of a button.

With SDN, the entire factory and its IIoT (Industrial IoT) network can be dynamically managed and configured using a single SDN controller, handling all the elements that make a network work and adapting without users even noticing: network monitoring, packet forwarding, networking devices status checks, load balancing, queue management, scheduling and quality of experience (QoE) awareness. SDNs also have far fewer problems than networks made of physical switches and gateways, reducing time spent on troubleshooting and reconfiguring. That creates a network that is flexible, scalable, efficient, secure, and resilient.

Is manufacturing ready for SDN?

SDN has traditionally been associated with telecoms companies which benefit enormously from flexible networks that can be quickly configured to meet changing customer needs. But SDNs are growing in popularity in industry too. Intel is upgrading its chipmaking facilities to SDN. IDC’s 2023 Future of Connectedness Sentiment found that 41% of manufacturers cite the flexibility to change bandwidth capacity in near real-time as a top reason for SDN investment.

That said, SDN is still relatively new in manufacturing. There is a need for a greater understanding of its benefits and challenges, so manufacturers can go in with their eyes open – ensuring that the transition is seamless and able to deliver what the manufacturer wants.

SDN based Network design for manufacturing plants

Fig. 1:  SDN based Network design for manufacturing plants

What does a software defined network look like?

An SDN is a cost-effective way to create reliable, seamless network connectivity with any combination of available communications links, whether Wireless (Wi-Fi/5G) or Wired (Ethernet/LAN) (as shown in Fig 2).

A growing number of connected industrial IoT (IIoT) devices are being installed throughout the manufacturing plant. In an SDN, edge gateways are installed around the plant to provide wireless connectivity to these IIoT devices. IoT-enabled devices, like routers, switches, firewalls, and storage devices help to forward data through the edge gateway efficiently.

Within the factory, an edge cloud is established – a localized virtual hosting space which manages the devices and gateways. Within that sits an SDN controller, which manages thousands of IIoT devices, establishes and maintains network connectivity to each, and automatically manages data routing between them, ensuring continuous low latency connectivity, regardless of the location of the machines or connection type.

Finally, an SDN includes a network of intelligent industrial gateways to optimize traffic and cost, while providing end-to-end encrypted data transport to corporate data centers.

Seamless Connectivity between Wi-Fi and Ethernet, based on SDN (images from Internet source)

Fig. 2:  Seamless Connectivity between Wi-Fi and Ethernet, based on SDN (images from Internet source)

What are the benefits of SDN for manufacturing facilities?

SDNs offer various benefits to factory-based networks. These include:

  • Simplifies network management, by separating the control plane(network intelligence and data forwarding decisions) from the data plane(data collection)as shown inFig 3
  • Allows the routing of newly added devices to be automatically configured
  • Provides a programmable centralized control and management system for the factory network, using high-level policies, all without changing existing factory network architecture
  • Centralized management facilitates the optimization and configuration of the factory network in an efficient and automated manner
  • Offers interoperability/seamless connectivity through interfacing with different wired and wireless technologies
  • Enables the dynamic management of smart devices
  • Facilitates the real time feed of data, processed at the edge, for quick, automatic decision-making
  • Provides higher data traffic optimization/rerouting of packets based on edge processing, along with fault tolerance during production
  • Enables faster delivery of data packets
  • Reduces OPEX and CAPEX
  • Improves scalability
Control and Data Plane separation, based on SDN (images/icons are from Internet source)

Fig. 3:  Control and Data Plane separation, based on SDN (images/icons are from Internet source)

A SDN automatically recognizes and prioritizes data traffic flow, avoids network congestion, and provides seamless handoff between wired (LAN) and wireless (Wi-Fi), which ensures manufacturing operations continue, even in the event of an unexpected link outage. The result is persistent, low-latency connections designed to support real-time collaboration throughout the entire manufacturing operation – from the factory to sales, planning, distribution, and customer care.

The SDN can also be customized to suit the manufacturing plant. Product designers can create private networks to perform tasks, like monitoring and controlling machinery, and offer customized policies to govern the factory’s network’s traffic. That gives it great flexibility to meet user needs and adapt as those needs change.

Fig.4:  Seamless Switching / Connectivity based on SDN


SDNs enable fast and persistent data transfer between various industrial devices to handle mission-critical applications. That boosts operational efficiency, increases productivity, and reduces the risk of downtime from connectivity issues.

How Capgemini can help

SDNs in manufacturing are relatively new and unproven. Capgemini brings years of experience working on SDNs in the telecoms industry, where we have built a detailed understanding of the technologies involved and the challenges of integration, along with connections to an ecosystem of key technology players that must be brought together to deliver an effective SDN. In addition, we offer a deep understanding of manufacturing networks, including Wi-Fi, gateways, and IoT, which are all part of our longstanding DNA. Together, this makes us an ideal partner on your manufacturing SDN journey.

Each new generation of mobile technology has delivered more: More data. More devices. More efficiency. But it’s time to broaden our view of network technology – focusing not just on what it brings today, but what more we can build with it tomorrow.

Meet our expert

Vijay Anand

Senior Director, Technology, and Chief IoT Architect, Capgemini Engineering
Vijay plays a strategic leadership role in building connected IoT solutions in many market segments, including consumer and industrial IoT. He has over 25 years of experience and has published 19 research papers, including IEEE award-winning articles. He is currently pursuing a Ph.D. at the Crescent Institute of Science and Technology, India.

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