Virtualization, Cloud Analytics

Cloud manufacturing software improves communication, productivity

Cloud manufacturing software can help streamline disparate systems and help improve communication and productivity for manufacturers.

By Cara Winther March 10, 2021
Image courtesy: Brett Sayles

It’s clear the digital revolution has transformed manufacturing in many ways. We now have countless systems that gather and process tons of data. It’s happening in every department from your Accounting folks to your Zero Scrap group, and everywhere in between: Maintenance, manufacturing, logistics, quality, shipping and transportation. This also includes a few nearer to our hearts, as well: Human resources, benefits, payroll and pension administrators.

This is really good news. All of these different software packages were implemented with the primary objective of managing or resolving a particular issue. That’s the good news part: most of them did just that, serving that purpose, addressing the one issue. There’s also some not quite as good news.

The less than good news part is most of those systems were put in place to deal with one specific objective. While they often performed that task well enough, companies have been left with dozens of fragmented systems. Like looking at a great big puzzle without the big picture by its side so you know what everything will look like when all the pieces are in place.

Wouldn’t it be great if all of these systems spoke the same language and could talk with each other? Well, they can. Cloud solutions can help bridge the gap between disparate systems and leverage a manufacturer’s ability to analyze data and optimize operations.

Harmonizing disparate manufacturing systems

As manufacturing plants expand their digital workplaces, disparate systems have been adopted to support increasingly digitized production processes. These systems include:

  • Maintenance
  • Safety
  • Quality (scrap, traceability, inspection and SPC)
  • Document storage
  • Production tracking
  • Employee training and skills documentation.

Each piece is instrumental to any overall production process. But, due to the fragmented reality when so many of them coexist simultaneously rather than harmoniously, they are often under-leveraged and, therefore, underperform.

While manufacturers strive for a common plant floor system, language, and data reporting structure, the belief is this harmony is very difficult to achieve, so the aspiration is abandoned. It’s a daunting task for the people on the floor to become experts with every system. They are asked to provide the raw data for these systems, which they routinely do. Unfortunately, what occurs all too often, is most of these data inputters have no visibility to what happens after they have provided this data.

What does this mean in the real manufacturing world? How much effort would you expend, let alone ask your associates to put forth, when you can’t even see what’s being done with all this data? For one thing, it means the likelihood of redundancy is very high. Different people inputting the same data into different systems. This factor alone is the epitome of inefficiency and waste, the very things we strive to minimize or eliminate. How about that, “Let’s work together as a team!”, atmosphere you’ve been working so tirelessly to achieve? The frustration that results when people feel like their efforts are futile erodes far too much of your hard earned team environment. Much like not being able to catch the fish you can’t see, this makes it difficult to measure and improve your production metrics in a meaningful way. Out of sight, out of mind.

Three benefits of cloud manufacturing software for manufacturers

There are resolutions to this situation, made possible through the cloud. While most other verticals, including the healthcare industry and government, have embraced the cloud and this amazing technology, many manufacturers are late adopters. Consider these benefits:

  1. Cloud solutions offer the best opportunity to overlay and link disparate manufacturing systems. Cloud solutions provide the framework to bring these all together.
  2. Cloud solutions offer better security and lower risk than homegrown systems. Cloud service providers (CSPs) work 24/7 to identify external security issues and automatically update their solutions. Otherwise, the responsibility falls on internal IT resources.
  3. Cloud systems are less costly. They simply require less of an IT footprint than other alternatives. With cloud solutions, you remove the need for outside vendors to take up semi-permanent residency in your facility.

Eight questions to ask cloud manufacturing software providers

When evaluating any Cloud-based maintenance or production management solution provider, manufacturers should elevate their expectations by asking them these 8 questions:

  1. Can it streamline audit processes?
  2. Will it simplify training and create a full digital history of training? Including all requirements, evidence of satisfactory completion, equipment qualifications, and certifications?
  3. Will the deployment require a lengthy and costly IT project plan?
  4. Is a “rip and replace” of existing enterprise resource planning (ERP), manufacturing execution systems (MES), and computerized maintenance management systems (CMMS) necessary?
  5. Must we always sacrifice user-friendly and intuitive user interface (UI) to obtain better data? Manufacturers know that a lack of good UI in any system will create manual workarounds, which defeats a project’s objectives..
  6. Does it return positive impacts on core manufacturing metrics such as operational availability, cost-of-product and overall equipment effectiveness (OEE) while delivering a solid return on investment (ROI)?
  7. Does the solution fit the reality of the plant floor and the way maintenance and production departments need to operate?
  8. Finally, does it increase or decrease plant floor employee engagement on problem solving? These folks are the real experts. Not harnessing their experience and hands-on knowledge is truly a waste.

This article originally appeared on Leading2Lean’s websiteLeading2Lean is a CFE Media content partner.


Cara Winther
Author Bio: Cara Winther, customer support manager, Leading2Lean