The benefits of cloud computing in the manufacturing industry

The domestic canary isn’t what most of us would consider a tool for industrial labour. But in 1988, hundreds of these birds were made redundant from their small, yet significant roles in Britain’s coal mining industry. Earlier mines lacked air ventilation, which meant these ill-fated birds were favoured as the gas detectors of choice. Today, advancements in connectivity and the introduction of cloud computing are making monitoring industrial environments a lot more sophisticated.

[easy-tweet tweet=”The #Cloud and the Canary. How are they related? ” user=”comparethecloud” hashtags=”industry, manufacturing”]

Head in the clouds

Manufacturers today are faced with challenges unlike any they have previously experienced. Complex regulatory standards, the big data trend and an ever growing pressure to compete with emerging economies make it difficult for many organisations to achieve sustainable success.

In recent years, we’ve heard a lot about cloud computing, but its role in the manufacturing industry is not always clear. Outside of the factory walls, technology is advancing at a rapid pace and inevitably, the world is becoming more technologically intertwined than ever before. While cloud computing certainly isn’t a new phenomenon in the IT and consumer environments, the technology has only recently started to take its place in the manufacturing industry.

As industrial automation becomes more intelligent and manufacturers embrace machine-to-machine (M2M) technology, cloud computing is set to become the obvious solution to store and manage the ever growing expanse of production data. Aside from increased storage space, the cloud helps manufacturers to reduce costs, change business models, provide new services, increase agility, optimise performance and ultimately, drive profitability. 

cloud computing is set to become the obvious solution to store and manage the ever growing expanse of production data

Energy data management

For industry, there are few topics as widely discussed as the European Union’s Energy Efficiency Directive. While legal requirements, such as complying with the Energy Savings Opportunity Scheme (ESOS), are clear, strategies for meeting these requirements are not always as straightforward.

Performing a meaningful evaluation of a manufacturing facility’s energy efficiency is only possible when energy consumption figures are available in a complete manner. This data should be compared against other factors, such as machine and process data, number of items produced and more. To make sense of the copious amounts of data produced on the shop floor, many manufacturers are deploying energy data management systems (EDMS).

Generally, EDMS is set up locally and embedded into the existing IT infrastructure, but there are a number of different scenarios available, including moving the EDMS to the cloud, a possibility which enables company-wide analysis of energy data.

Traditionally, organisations with more than one production site would monitor energy efficiency locally. But now, cloud computing allows energy managers to track this data on a global scale, regardless of their location. Not only does this help set benchmarks for company-wide efficiency standards, but also creates opportunities to develop new business models to tackle energy management, head on.

Silver linings

One of the greatest benefits of moving to the cloud is the cost advantage. Rather than paying a set amount for on-site infrastructure, some manufacturers choose the cloud because expenses are easier to calculate and based on a pay as you go basis. What’s more, as the platform is hosted by a third-party, there’s no need for hardware installation or ongoing maintenance at your end, keeping operation costs to a minimum.

But cloud computing isn’t just for large organisations. Manufacturers of all sizes are already using the cloud to gain access to companywide production data, key performance indicators (KPIs) and energy efficiency figures – all at the push of a button.

Calm before the storm

[easy-tweet tweet=”The benefits of #cloud computing are clear, that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s an easy decision for #manufacturers to make”]

Although the benefits of moving to cloud computing are clear, that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s an easy decision for manufacturers to make. Before making the move, organisations must decide on the objectives and reasoning for choosing cloud computing in the first place. From there, they should set a specific migration strategy in place.

One of the most common concerns to arise when moving to the cloud is how the move can be achieved without disrupting the organisations existing IT infrastructure. Another is how to integrate an entirely new procedure into established operational routines. For some, there is an inevitable fear surrounding the idea of storing production data off-premises. Although these concerns are all valid, these fears aren’t as justified as they might seem.

Most cloud providers have invested heavily to ensure the infrastructure is safe and resilient to any attacks

Most cloud providers have invested heavily to ensure the infrastructure is safe and resilient to any attacks. For example, Microsoft and its cloud platform, Azure, is ISO 27001 certified and therefore provides disaster recovery as a service (DRaaS). By automating the replication of your factory data, Azure will provide a secondary data centre to act as your recovery site, meaning even in the unlikely event your data is lost, it isn’t gone forever.

What’s more, Microsoft’s Azure platform is fully compatible with a number of energy data management systems. COPA-DATA’s software, zenon, for example, is based on Microsoft’s latest technology and therefore can be seamlessly integrated into the Azure cloud platform. This consistency provides a complete end-to-end Internet of Things (IoT) solution for manufacturers, from industrial machinery to the cloud and mobile devices. All of this means concerns about integrating the current IT infrastructure with the cloud are diminished. 

Above the clouds

[easy-tweet tweet=”Moving to #cloud computing isn’t just about moving #data storage off-site” user=”comparethecloud”]

Moving to cloud computing isn’t just about moving data storage off-site. Used correctly, the cloud can enhance an organisation’s performance in production, efficiency and potentially, its entire business model. With so much potential, it’s hard to see why any manufacturer wouldn’t consider cloud computing.

The days of canaries in coal mines are long gone; today’s industry is a world of calculated risks and intelligent data. To evolve effectively, manufacturers should carefully consider their needs, objectives and business goals because without taking these steps, they risk getting left behind.

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Johannes Petrowisch, Partner Account Manager, COPA-DATA

Johannes is responsible for maintaining COPA-DATA’s global relationships with the likes of Microsoft, Intel, SAP and more. Based at COPA-DATA’s headquarters in Austria, Johannes also manages and develops the COPA-DATA Partner Community, a worldwide network of profitable businesses with a focus on industrial automation.