Manufacturing in the Cloud—Why Now?

December 22, 2017 by Angus StockingAngus Stocking



Editor’s note: This is the second part of our series “Manufacturers and the Switch to Cloud-Based Software.” You can read the first part here.

As shown, manufacturers are moving to the cloud… finally. But that leaves the question of why they’re moving to the cloud, or rather, why now?

“It’s a bit like kicking a mule from behind,” says Jon Peddie Analyst Kathleen Maher (in a December 2017 interview). “Individuals and companies are slow to change and need a real push to get started—we saw that with PLM, BIM, and other new solutions. But as networks and tools are created and connections are made, it all starts moving quickly and new doors start to open.”

For many manufacturers, the ‘kicks’ come from government agencies. “Project lifecycle management is a good example,” Maher explains. “It really required a push from the government side to get started, but once it did all sorts of companies started to see advantages in all their operations—think about Tesla remotely collecting data from in-service vehicles, and even updating their product remotely. It’s been revolutionary.”

[Further Reading: 5 Ways Cloud-Based Software Saves Time and Money]

In manufacturing, a big push to the cloud is in response to a mundane challenge—paperwork. As manufacturing has become more distributed, involving global teams, simply tracking forms well is a major source of efficiency gains. “For many reasons—safety, performance, standards, regulatory requirements, you name it—governments and agencies are insisting on greater accountability,” says Maher. “That means a lot of paperwork, and anything that makes tracking and finding the right form or record more easily can be a huge advantage.”

She has a point; improved document control is often cited as a major reason for adopting cloud solutions. Not only are forms and reports tracked, all project-based communications—emails, texts, plans, photographs, etc.—can be collected in a single online space that is searchable and accessible to all stakeholders. Moreover, these documents can be maintained in formats that update automatically and avoid the version control issues that plague local software solutions.

Security is also improved, as security protocols can be applied at a single source, and document access is easily tracked. Especially with regards to project management, it’s easier to see what was done, what was not, who did it, and what’s left to do.

Deliberate, even reluctant, cloud adoption was a logical path for manufacturers, given the government and societal forces at work. But the bottom line is, it’s happened; early adopters in manufacturing and digital solution providers have worked together to create truly secure and powerful cloud platforms and services that are optimized for manufacturing.

[Further Reading: AI, IoT, and the Future of Manufacturing]

Put another way, “new doors are open” and the road ahead is smooth. Moving to the cloud now is much easier for all manufacturers, even small and mid-sized firms. The Fourth Industrial Revolution (integrated, cloud-enabled manufacturing processes) is essentially complete.

So, it’s no longer the case that manufacturers are feeling forced (or kicked) into moving to the cloud. Instead, mature cloud networks and solutions are so powerful and useful that manufacturers are now racing to the cloud because they want to take advantage of amazing new opportunities…and not be left behind.

The idea of the Fourth Industrial Revolution sounds hyperbolic, but, “It’s absolutely true,” says Maher. “For decades now, leading thinkers in manufacturing have been working on and implementing a grand vision of factories and processes as digital—and cloud services are making that a reality.”

Maher suggests a couple of components of this “grand vision.”

If a manufacturer is sufficiently invested in the cloud, actual fabrication can be moved closer to the customers. “It doesn’t have to be your factory,” says Maher. “It can be the factory that’s best positioned to fulfill a particular customer’s exact needs.”

Even products like cars or refrigerators will eventually be realizable by distributed facilities, and customized for individuals. It’s a bit like the current state of print-on-demand books—assembled as needed, where needed, and customized.

Digital manufacturing more or less requires globally distributed teams of designers and specialized fabricators, which in tu...

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