H Cloud

Smarter customers require a smarter approach to cloud computing

Oct. 4, 2022
Savvy cloud tactics can expand a manufacturer's resource pool, simulate at scale and collaborate throughout the design process.

By Oliver Haya, Rockwell Automation commercial product manager

While gaining and retaining loyal customers continues to be a struggle for businesses, COVID-19 significantly affected how consumers shop and how businesses operate. When the pandemic hit, customer expectations were taken to a new level as people began to demand personalized, immediate and connected services. Customers hold a lot of power in today’s business relationships, and if they aren’t getting what they want, they have no problem taking their business elsewhere.

Manufacturers are feeling the pressure from these frequent changes in customer expectations. Faster time to market and greater agility can be achieved much more easily with commercial cloud-based solutions than with home-grown information technology (IT) projects. To rapidly create new designs, validate them against existing equipment, and deploy them to the plant, manufacturers should be looking at the cloud to expand their resource pool, simulate at scale and collaborate throughout the design.

Let’s look at a few ways the cloud is helping industrial manufacturers meet growing customer expectations.

On-demand scaling

Scalability is one of the largest advantages the cloud offers to manufacturers. As a company grows, its software, services and computing resources should grow with it. The cloud enables manufacturers to scale on-demand, making it easier for them to add or remove users and compute power. Since the cloud has more power than a traditional on-premise system, tasks that would typically take days—such as running a simulation—can now be done much faster.

With a scalable cloud solution, enterprises can easily and quickly upscale their resources to respond to sudden spikes in demand. When preparing new designs, in particular, the testing and simulation process requires uneven computing resources. Owning and maintaining high-power computers that are only utilized for a fraction of the year is not cost -effective, so cloud-based infrastructure as a service (IaaS) can alleviate that. Better still is cloud-based software as a service (SaaS) that simplifies the startup and reduces the technical burden on the user.

Accelerating innovation

Industrial manufacturers are always looking for ways to innovate to meet evolving customer needs and stay ahead of the competition. Historically, if a manufacturer wanted to pull data from an industrial asset, they needed to connect to it physically. But times are changing! Industrial assets have more connectivity, with many integrating secure, remote connectivity for on-demand access and/or streaming data. In an increasingly distributed workforce, this has come to be a major value-driver behind cloud adoption. With this level of accessibility, manufacturers can have their own digital lab at their fingertips to perform tests and fix production issues without the risks and costs associated with doing so in the real world.

A digital twin, a digital representation of a physical asset across its lifecycle, enables manufacturers to make design tweaks before beginning mass production, and launch factory improvements during production. Take, for example, a snack producer that wants to test new package sizes. It can use a digital twin see what changes in programming are required, monitor how the existing mechanics of the equipment respond, and validate the concept before starting the pilot production run, reducing the risk to assets and shortening the time to market.

Data sharing

Manufacturing facilities have typically been isolated from the broader company network, out of a fear of disrupted processes. As security practices have become stronger, with less reliance on “security by obscurity,” more manufacturers have started connecting their systems to internal networks and the cloud.

The cloud enables manufacturers to not only share data across different business systems and business units, but also with suppliers, vendors and customers to better understand their needs. Keeping a trusted source of truth across multiple parties can be greatly simplified using SaaS that has been designed for that purpose, with identity management, audit trails and always-up-to-date software helping keep data secure.

The sharing of design data, operational information, and maintenance history can help suppliers and manufacturers collaborate for a greater outcome. Particularly for organizations in highly regulated industries (think drug producers or chemical manufacturers), the ability to share data through the entire development lifecycle, also known as tech transfer, powers faster drug development or quicker chemical optimization.

The sky is the limit

The cloud has become pervasive in some parts of our lives, however in manufacturing, it is still in its infancy. Early adopters of cloud technologies are starting to benchmark plants across their enterprise, optimize production schedules for local energy costs, and bring new products to market faster. As the cloud evolves and stretches to the edge in the plant, new opportunities for optimization will come from machine learning that combines the capabilities of edge and cloud.