Delivering sustainable growth in the manufacturing industry starts with adopting digital transformation technologies and Industry 4.0 strategies. Digital technologies support the capture of shop floor data and the analysis of aggregated data to gain insight or take actions that improve operational performance.
Captured data must be aggregated, stored, and analyzed. To accomplish these actions, a computing platform that supports data management is required. This is where the industrial cloud comes into the picture.
This post will discuss:
- What the industrial cloud is and the features it provides
- How the industrial cloud supports the implementation of digital transformation
- How the industrial cloud supports the application of Industry 4.0 strategies
What is the Industrial Cloud?
Approximately three decades ago, the iconic Microsoft Ad featuring Bill Gates sitting on top of a stack of papers and holding a compact disc introduced the need for computerized storage space to support digitization. The introduction of physical compact discs was the first paradigm shift from recording information on paper to digitalizing data.
The iconic compact disc could store approximately 10MB of data and hard discs of today can store terabytes of data…but the average manufacturing facility produces big data sets, multiple terabytes of data, daily. Thus, utilizing hard discs to capture daily production data is untenable in the long run. Physical storage solutions only store data. They do not provide any processing capabilities or features and must be plugged onto a computer for further data analysis.
The limitations of physical storage systems meant another paradigm shift was required to effectively store big data and analyze it. The invention of cloud computing platforms became the solution. The scalability cloud computing provided meant that the manufacturing industry had found a platform to store the petabytes of data it produced. Cloud computing platforms also provided the computing resources and power to analyze data.
The earlier cloud computing platforms were built to assist developers to develop applications for the financial, telecommunications, and information technology sectors. These applications worked well in these industries but were not suited for analyzing manufacturing data. Developers who took advantage of cloud computing resources also did not find manufacturing interesting or believed it would be lucrative enough to develop apps for.
The introduction of Industry 4.0 was to change all that. The adoption of the Industrial IoT and data capturing devices to monitor manufacturing processes led to an exponential increase in the need for cloud computing services. By 2017, 25% of finished products were made with input from the cloud and by 2020, 66% of manufacturing enterprises were relying on cloud computing resources.
The introduction of edge computing and its widespread adoption in the manufacturing industry means more data is being captured. Cloud computing provided the resource to store data but a more industry-specific solution was needed to support analytics. This industry-specific solution is the industrial cloud.
Just like Software as a Service (SaaS) platforms service the app development community, the Industrial cloud services the manufacturing industry. The Industrial cloud offers an open architecture to connect production processes to the cloud. It also provides a means of standardizing the interexchange of data to support the implementation of digital transformation strategies.
Also important, the industrial cloud provides developers with the features and standards to develop applications built specifically for the manufacturing industry. Thus, the toolkit associated with industrial cloud platforms can be used to develop apps for overall equipment effectiveness (OEE) ratio calculations, and analyzing benchmarking data. OEE is used to measure manufacturing performance and benchmarking highlights the optimal performance of individual equipment.
How the Industrial Cloud Supports Digital Transformation and Industry 4.0 Strategies
Multiple manufacturing enterprises such as Volkswagen and Siemens have built industrial cloud ecosystems to support their manufacturing processes. Other enterprises such as Simio also leverage the industrial cloud to deliver optimized digital transformation software platforms to end-users.
In the case of Volkswagen, the industrial cloud is used to network machinery and support machine-to-cloud communications. The industrial cloud also supports production systems and industrial automation initiatives. For example, when developing a predictive maintenance strategy the industrial cloud provides the resources to capture historical equipment data and analyze them. The tools for forecasting future maintenance are also provided within the industrial cloud’s ecosystem.
The industrial cloud also supports the application of automated systems within smart manufacturing shop floors. For example, applications that leverage artificial intelligence are used to calculate the requirements for automated material handling systems within the factory floor. Automated or autonomous material handling vehicles are also digital transformation initiatives the industrial cloud supports.
The computing resources needed to evaluate complex shop floor challenges and operations also rely on the industrial cloud. For example, utilizing risk-based scheduling software to develop optimized schedules require extensive computing resources. A risk-based schedule utilizes real-time constraints to quickly update operational schedules on the go. The industrial cloud supports the data collection and analytical processes required to provide accurate schedules in real-time.
The benefits of implementing digital transformation with the industrial cloud include:
- Supporting the collaboration of multiple partners and third-party service providers when optimizing manufacturing processes
- Providing access to the latest IoT and digital assets built for the manufacturing community
- Acquiring cross-functional digital transformation solutions which are sold on industrial cloud marketplaces.
- Developing digital transformation software solutions for use or sale within industrial cloud marketplaces
The industrial cloud supports the implementation of digital transformation strategies by providing scalable computing resources. It also opens up the manufacturing industry to developers seeking to build innovative solutions for manufacturing enterprises. The manufacturing industry will then benefit from the extensive UI and performance-based experiences of commercial developers. The result will be “goodbye to clunky manufacturing applications and a resounding welcome to user-friendly mobile applications”.