Digital transformation technologies are key enablers of modern Industry 4.0 workflows where automation is required to run traditional processes. For manufacturers, implementing industry 4.0 operational models starts with going digital and in many cases; the digital transformation process is done incrementally from eliminating the use of paper to utilizing manufacturing enterprise systems (MES). Moving from the incremental to large-scale deployments of IoT devices and extended systems is where the support of a cloud computing platform is required.
Cloud computing empowers the industrial sector with significant computational resources to support the incremental addition of digital transformation solutions to improve operations. Here, the industrial sector includes every niche such as healthcare, banking and finance, Oil & Gas, and education – although, in this post, special emphasis will be placed on its use in the manufacturing industry.
Within the manufacturing industry, the industrial cloud can be viewed as a blank foundation that enterprises can utilize to develop sustainable technology infrastructure. The foundation cloud computing service provides offer include:
- Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) – The provision of virtual computing infrastructures such as network components and CPUs provide manufacturers with the option of building private cloud infrastructure to support industry-specific operations.
- Platform as a Service (PaaS) – Manufacturers interested in building industry-specific applications within an ecosystem with a functional operating system can take advantage of PaaS cloud platforms to achieve digital transformation goals.
- Software as a Service (SaaS) – For many manufacturers, a custom environment fitted with the tools to store data and analyze data to take action is all that’s required. A SaaS cloud platform provides the supportive foundation for managing data which allows the enterprise to focus a majority of its time on its core operations.
Despite the different types of cloud computing platforms and features they offer, one important factor ties them together and it is the managed services they provide. Using a cloud computing service means the technical aspects such as updating platform features, deploying security operation centers, eliminating downtime etc. are the responsibilities of the service provider…and in most cases, technicians managing cloud services are specialized professionals with better credentials compared to the IT departments most manufacturers can build.
Use Cases for Applying the Industrial Cloud
Generally, the responsibility of determining how and where to deploy digital transformation technologies is that of individual manufacturing enterprises but some popular use cases apply. These use cases include:
- Data Collation – The average shop floor creates big data sets from daily operations. Storing the collected data for analysis and gaining actionable insight requires the use of extensive computing resources. The industrial cloud provides the resources to store every data captured from the shop floor with ease. Manufacturers can also leverage specialized aggregation tools to categorize collected data in formats that simplify search or data analysis.
- Supporting Digital Transformation Solutions – Providers of digital transformation platforms rely on cloud computing to enable collaboration and the computing resources it provides. For example, demand forecasting software relies on cloud resources to store the historical datasets required to predict future demand. Likewise, simulation modeling and digital twin platforms rely on the cloud to provide multiple users with access to simulation results or digital representations from diverse locations and devices.
- Computing Resources for Developers – Industry-specific applications and tools are required to manipulate manufacturing data to gain accurate insight. Industrial cloud computing platforms such as an IoT platform provide developers with the tools required to develop apps built for manipulating shop floor data.
- Support Edge Computing Frameworks – The decentralization edge hardware brings to the manufacturing floor is its most important feature but sometimes edge applications may need to leverage centralized platforms to accomplish specific tasks. Cloud computing provides the centralization needed to store edge data or to develop digital representations of processes monitored using edge hardware.
The Benefits of Cloud Computing to Industry 4.0 Applications
The aforementioned use cases highlight the advantages of leveraging cloud computing to support the digital transformation of the factory floor and industrial processes but do not provide a comprehensive scope of its benefits. Other benefits of leveraging the industrial cloud include:
- Scalability and Flexibility – The industrial cloud provides manufacturers with the option to either auto-scale computing requirements or demands more computing resources at the click of a button. This eliminates the need to purchase computing hardware and reconfigure available systems when scaling up traditional on-premise infrastructure. The scalability cloud offers empower manufacturers with the tools to implement agile manufacturing processes to respond to operational changes.
- Ease of Use – Manufacturers are saddled with the responsibility of designing products and producing them to improve customer satisfaction levels and gain profit. Adding the responsibility of managing and constantly monitoring IT infrastructure will divert attention from a manufacturer’s core objectives to ensuring IT systems function optimally. Cloud computing service providers eliminate this challenge by shouldering the responsibility of managing the IT system. Manufacturing enterprises simply run applications or search functions without having to reconfigure their IT systems.
- Cost Flexibility – Cloud services are generally provided through pay-as-you-use subscription plans. Thus, the level at which a manufacturer consumes computing resources is the determining factor behind utilization cost. Compared to traditional on-premise systems, leveraging the industrial cloud is more affordable because it reduces the overhead cost of purchasing and setting up computing systems.
- Extended Support – Cloud service providers are powered by professional support teams who understand how manufacturing enterprises utilize their solutions. The technical knowledge from these support teams translates into extensive assistance throughout an application’s lifecycle. For example, service providers offering specialized solutions such as an IoT platform provide teams specialized in managing IoT deployments to troubleshoot and solve problems associated with IoT frameworks. The support CSPs provide is sometimes included in the subscription cost and it’s generally more affordable compared to hiring consultants to fix systemic issues.
The cloud is no longer an obscure trend that should be avoided. Statistics show that approximately 87% of manufacturers already utilize the cloud to support specific Industry 4.0 applications. Although complexities will arise when implementing cloud solutions, manufacturers can leverage the support service providers offer to reap rich rewards.