Industrial manufacturing operations are notorious for being slow and cautious adopters of new technology. This is rightfully so, as many of the industrial processes in this world are critical to the support of our society and in some cases hazardous to the public if not well contained and managed. So it comes as no surprise that the new cloud paradigm of computing—which may not be as new as we all think, considering the advent of mainframes and shared computing back in the 1960s, 70s and 80s—is approached with great caution for industrial operations.
The Three V's
Consider some of the advantages of cloud-based computing…and think about the three V’s as far as big data is concerned: velocity, volume and variety. Think about all of the information produced by an industrial manufacturing plant today, all the data coming off of sensors, switches, valves, people, spreadsheets or whatever you have. Think about how quickly this happens. In many cases these measurements are taken at sub-second intervals. Then think about the different types of data: analog values, digital values, text, video, location coordinates, transactions, documents and pictures. Industrial operations have just about every type of data used today in computing.
With the competitive nature of manufacturing, if a company is not continually striving to become more productive and sustainable they are effectively falling behind and will eventually go out of business. That’s why it’s very important for companies to adopt new technologies that help them become more efficient and capable in relation to their competitors—like an industrial-strength, cloud-based platform.
This is reminiscent of about 10 years ago at the advent of mobile technologies and wireless communications in the plants. Many manufacturing companies were fearful of adopting this new technology, fearful of everything from the intrinsic safety of devices to the security of people using them. I remember attending a manufacturing user input committee and hearing comments about how they had no intention of allowing the new mobile products provided by industrial vendors into their plants.
Fast-forward to today and their plants could not operate at current productivity levels without mobile solutions on the shop floor and in the supply chain. Nobody wants to have serial number 1 of a new product, but after something catches on and is proving a financial benefit, it’s hard to keep it out of an industrial operation.
Where is the best place to put volumes of industrial information, crunch that information to come up with better supply chain execution, and then provide it to the people who need it?
The same is true of industrial cloud computing. Where is the best place to put volumes of industrial information, crunch that information to come up with better supply chain execution, and then provide it to the people who need it? To track efficiency, work in process, equipment downtime? And then scalability across the plant and enterprise comes into play.
The solution should be 80% out-of-the-box functionality so it can easily be adopted by other plants. And it’s not just about individual plants anymore. The entire supply chain needs coordination across design, operations, distribution and aftermarket services, creating a digital thread across people, machines and processes.
So the question is not if the industrial cloud is for manufacturing companies, but how and what applications I should put in the industrial cloud to gain a competitive edge.