In our personal lives, we frequently use the cloud without giving it a second thought to store, share, and remotely access a variety of files ranging from photos to documents to movies. But, when it comes to our professional lives, in general, we have been a little more hesitant to take advantage of cloud technology. However, there are many time and cost benefits to bringing cloud technology into businesses, especially manufacturing facilities. From better reliability and more readily available data to easier scalability and elasticity and integration, there are numerous benefits to incorporating cloud technology into your manufacturing floor. Let’s take a closer look.
Probably the number one reason that manufacturing should be looking to the cloud is the reliability of the service. Most major cloud providers are now measured in the number of 9’s for the amount of uptime that is available, meaning if your provider has a rating of five 9’s it would have an uptime of 99.999%, which equates to around 5.26 minutes of unplanned downtime per year. By using the cloud, ensuring ultimate reliability is something your inhouse IT staff no longer needs to take care of. There is no need to worry about double redundancy or an internal server going down. The beauty of the cloud is most of the hard work when it comes to reliability is taken care for you.
Readily Available Data
Data is only as good as the sets of eyes that can look at it and decipher it. What good are terabytes of data if they are locked away inside an internal database somewhere? With a cloud architecture, that data is available to authorized users anywhere and anytime. Whether it’s a line supervisor who needs to see how a specific run is doing, a plant manager who wants to check on the whole plant’s process, or a CEO who wants to see how his entire operation is doing, using the cloud allows for this type of low- or high-level of granularity when deciphering the data. Additionally, there are a growing number of manufacturing-specific analytics tools available in the cloud that can provide deeper insights into your data.
Scalability and Elasticity
No matter the size or scale of the manufacturer, the cloud has a solution for you. The major reason for this is the ability of a cloud-based system to scale and be elastic, and when configured correctly, adjust automatically. Imagine if you’re a water resource manager and you know that your management system is going to get tens of thousands of hits during the beginning of the season with people buying water rights. Is your self-hosted system ready for this large influx of users, or will your users just become frustrated and barrage your phone lines with complaints because they are seeing a loading screen? With the cloud, you have the ability to scale up when you know you will get a large influx and scale down when you don’t need the resources. But the benefits don’t stop there. If your cloud was configured correctly, the system can scale up and down without the need for human interaction. Thus, saving you even more money!
Today, we can no longer have systems that remain isolated. Integrating with a platform such as an enterprise resource planning (ERP) system, which could also be cloud based, is easier and more cost efficient when we use the cloud and the API architecture that usually follows. Imagine integrating your current ERP system with plant-level control systems it at 15 different physical facilities. How would you do that today? Most likely you would have to go to each plant and install software at each location to communicate to the ERP. This is costly and time consuming to both install and maintain, and the potential for broken connections as software versions change is highly probable. Now think about doing this same thing with a cloud-based system. That installation could be done at one location and from anywhere in the world. Because cloud-based systems are typically hardware and software independent, the reliability problem also becomes a thing of the past.
The image conjured up when I think of a cloud is a big white puffy thing contrasted against a blue sky and out there for all to see. That is decidedly NOT the image I want associated with my proprietary production data. Potential security problems are the most common argument against putting manufacturing systems into the cloud. This problem has been worked on for years now, and a properly designed and installed cloud-based system is no less secure than a system protected by the IT firewall. Physical data center security, encryption, centrally managed user authentication, and other plant-level network security tools keep these systems safe today. IT departments still need to protect network entry points as always, but the cloud component of these systems is not the weak link and should not deter you from considering these solutions.
Want more? Read the full white paper Demystifying the Cloud for Manufacturing that discusses the benefits, concerns, and practical use cases for cloud computing in the industrial world.