Cloud computing should be considered by companies of all sizes

A cloud-based smart manufacturing strategy is going to be driven by business needs, but it can offer major benefits regardless of the company's size.
By Srivats Ramaswami, MESA International September 22, 2018

Does the size of the company matter when using cloud computing for smart manufacturing? The short answer is no. A cloud-based smart manufacturing strategy is going to be driven by business needs and the company’s appetite for technology adoption. With that said, cloud computing offers some significant benefits for smart manufacturing regardless of the company’s size.

A cloud solution allows a company to start small and expand. For example, a manufacturer wanting to deploy work instructions on a manufacturing line that is running a legacy of plant systems sans instructions could deploy work instructions from a cloud-based manufacturing execution system (MES) solution. With cloud, companies do not need to boil the ocean for a specific business opportunity.

Companies that are evaluating migrating from the on-premise customer relationship management (CRM) solution to the cloud can start with leads and opportunities management in the cloud, keep the quoting and approvals on premise and upon successful implementation of the leads and opportunities, expand their reach into quoting and order management.

Partners and hybrid solutions

If a company is looking into channel partners, they can run a storefront in the cloud while maintaining other order management systems on-premise. The cloud storefront allows the organization to immediately increase revenue through channel sales. While the hybrid cloud solutions create an easier transition path to a full cloud-based system of systems if these are desired end goals for the organization.

Hybrid solutions can help companies adopt MES. A large manufacturer with hundreds of factories can develop a hybrid strategy of cloud-based and on-premise manufacturing systems. There are plenty of opportunities to take advantage of the cloud in a hybrid environment.

When considering whether to deploy an MES in one of the manufacturing lines, companies can start with basic data collection, then expand to work instructions, further expand to additional capabilities like statistical process control and other expanded capabilities. Big MES procurement cycles can push the organization into wanting to immediately implement the bigger footprint to get the bigger returns. Cloud solutions might offer a gentler rollout process for investment and time to achieve return on that investment. These gentler adoption paths might also be less obtrusive to production schedules.

With cloud solutions, companies can focus on the low hanging fruit and realize benefits in as little as 8 to 12 weeks. Under these circumstances, it is important to ensure that the cloud solution provider has open architecture through APIs so that companies can easily integrate point solutions from any solution provider with cloud-based manufacturing.

Other cloud computing benefits include:

  • Cloud delivers a "mutual fund" strategy. Traditional on-premise solutions would require companies to procure software, procure hardware, install, configure, customize and fully implement the entire solution before companies can see the first value. Since in the cloud, companies can start small and expand and can see the first value much faster. This allows the company to re-invest the savings back into the manufacturing systems and gain more value by continuing to improve productivity.
  • Cloud solutions help reduce the cost of mitigating system failures across multiple factories. With an on-premise solution, companies will need to perform risk assessment and mitigation for each of the environments whereas with a multi-tenant cloud, the software-as-a-service (SaaS) solution provider can guarantee service levels with their built-in redundancy and failover methods.
  • Security controls can be improved. For example, cloud providers are running all sorts of defense related programs and the FDA conducts clinical trial processing in the cloud. However, security considerations should not be completely delegated. The organizations must ensure that practices around these systems apply proper security principles and periodic audits are conducted.

There is a place in cloud for all sizes of companies for a wide range of opportunities. Different appetites for change can also be accommodated through transitions that adopt the cloud incrementally. Each manufacturer will draw the line differently between on-premise and on-cloud services depending on their immediate and long-term needs.

Srivats Ramaswami, CTO, 42Q. He is a member of MESA’s Smart Manufacturing Working Group and a Member of MESA’s International Board. This article originally appeared on MESA International’s blog. MESA International is a CFE Media content partner. Edited by Chris Vavra, production editor, CFE Media, cvavra@cfemedia.com.

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