Digitization has affected everyone, creating massive potential (and challenges) for businesses. No industry has been left untouched. Cloud-based technologies can help companies meet the needs of this new world. The Industry 4.0 manufacturing field is not an exception; traditional manufacturing routines and unique processes can be enhanced through cloud-based technologies to achieve more stability and control, reduce cost overheads, and generate more income as a result.
This article reviews the possibilities for moving to the cloud as well as the concerns and risks of the transition. It will also examine the different products and services available and ways that manufacturing businesses can implement these technologies.
An introduction to Cloud-Based Technologies
Cloud computing was defined by Ezell & Watson as “the provision of infinitely scalable computing resources as a service of the internet” (2017). Today, technologies like artificial intelligence, machine learning, or the Internet of Things (IoT) are increasingly important for businesses of all kinds, including those in modern manufacturing. In fact, cloud computing is in the process of transforming virtually every facet of modern manufacturing.
The Many Possibilities and Opportunities of Cloud-Based Technologies
Whether it’s operations, integrated supply chains, or the design and manufacturing of products, cloud-based technologies can be implemented in many areas of the manufacturing business. One of the most essential reasons for businesses to implement cloud-based technologies is cost savings. With the cloud, businesses no longer need to invest in expensive hardware. Instead, they can choose from a vast number of cloud-based apps, which are developed based on the latest research and technology.
The choice between a custom (or open source) platform and a serverless platform provided by cloud giants (Amazon, Microsoft, IBM, and Google) is highly dependent on the client. Сloud providers have pricing models which are based on the number of messages sent and received on the service. When compared to the costs of building and maintaining an on-premise system, cloud systems are almost always more affordable. However, pricing is not the only factor to consider.
Another key factor is flexibility and scalability. Modern manufacturing businesses face high consumer expectations and increased competition. Product cycles are increasingly shorter, adding pressure to speed up the pace of innovation and operation. In this fast-paced world, being able to adapt quickly is vital. Cloud-based apps give manufacturing businesses the flexibility they need and allow them to customize app settings to meet their specific needs.
Cloud-based technologies also allow businesses to improve their efficiency, cutting down on time-consuming processes. For example, intelligent systems can create transparent information channels, which allow resources to flow efficiently and flexibly through the business. Intelligent tracking solutions, which monitor the flow of these resources, can be used to implement automation processes, thanks to cloud-based integrated data analysis tools. These systems track the flow of goods and analyze the system’s efficiency — all in real time. To bring things to the next level, intelligent systems can find patterns in historic data to draw conclusions for certain outcomes (predictive analysis). This can be used to repair or maintain machines and prevent failures in the production cycle.
For large manufacturers, even minor breakdowns could halt operations, resulting in lost revenues that can quickly escalate to hundreds of thousands of dollars per hour. Given the cost of system downtime, interrupting operations to perform preventive maintenance that might not be needed or waiting for a part to break down before conducting repairs are not acceptable options. Using real-time sensor data, historical data, weather, inspection results, and maintenance reports, machine learning models are able to predict the failure of each component part with a high degree of accuracy. This solution can be scaled from a single facility to more than 1,000 entities.
Another advantage of implementing cloud-based technology in a manufacturing business is its disaster recovery and failover capabilities, which are standard offerings among cloud platform providers. A single natural disaster can significantly impact a company’s ability to maintain operations. The same goes for a localized emergency, such as fire or water damage in the factory. Thanks to cloud computing technologies, the systems can stay safe and are accessible from anywhere and at any time.
Smart Leaders Outsource Business Functions
Smart business leaders choose to focus on their organization’s strengths, outsourcing everything else. That includes IT since a breach can result in severe reputational damage, financial penalties, and even legal action from aggrieved parties.
Cloud computing shifts a significant body of responsibility away from management and puts it in the hands of experts whose businesses and reputations rest on their ability to execute IT functions thoroughly and efficiently. That, in turn, allows management to focus on core functions and frees up internal resources for innovation.
Possible Risks and Concerns of Implementing Cloud Technologies
Apart from the many advantages cloud-based technologies offer for modern manufacturing, there are also a few risks and concerns.
The first and most common risk associated with cloud-based technology is data loss, also known as data leakage. Data loss is the process in which data is deleted, corrupted, or made unreadable by a user, software, or application. Similarly, a data breach occurs when confidential data is viewed, accessed, or stolen by a third party without authorization. So-called vendor lock-ins occur when organizations encounter a problem with data transfer between vendors. As vendors provide different platforms to operate on, this is one of the most common security issues with cloud-based technologies (Morrow, 2018).
Cloud-based technologies rely on the internet, so hacking is another common security issue. A common hacking situation is account hijacking when an individual’s or organization’s cloud account is stolen by hackers and used to perform unauthorized activities. Vulnerabilities in organizations’ on-premise infrastructure can also open opportunities for unauthorized access to cloud data. You don’t have to download anything for this to occur — most computers store passwords, personal information, and business documents in the memory space of other running programs.
The risks and concerns of implementing cloud-based technologies are evident. When it comes to production-related systems and processes, there are good reasons for keeping some of your IT services on the premises or in a private cloud.
Cloud giants like Microsoft Azure, Amazon Web Services (AWS), and Google Cloud Platform (GCP) follow a shared responsibility model determining which security tasks are handled by the cloud provider and which tasks are handled by the customer. Audits of custom solutions are complicated and, because of this complexity, security on these platforms is never fully assured. Security audits are therefore much easier and less expensive if part of security-related features is covered by a cloud provider which can be confirmed by looking for the provider’s corresponding certificates.
The Head of DataArt’s Security Center, Dmitry Vyrostkov, recommends that developers working on a project utilize built-in cloud or external console tools that can examine the solution and ensure it is properly configured (similar to an audit team). For example, Amazon provides AWS CloudWatch for log analytics, alerting, and metric collection. MS Azure and Google Cloud have their own security and monitoring tools.
Cloud-Based Products and Apps for Modern Manufacturing and How To Choose Them
Enterprises tend to implement cloud computing in one of three major formats: software-as-a-service (SaaS), platform-as-a-service (PaaS), or infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS).
SaaS allows users to access software applications over the Internet “using personal computers, mobile devices, or instrumented machines instead of having to store software locally on in-house devices” (Ezell & Watson, 2017). Infrastructure-as-a-service gives organizations access to secure, enterprise-class computing infrastructure that can be managed and scaled to meet processing and storage needs. Finally, platform-as-a-service products allow users to rent virtual software development or production environments to efficiently develop and deploy new applications without having to invest in expensive hardware or software licenses of their own.
In the foreground of every cloud strategy should be the question: What is the overall IT structure/strategy and how can that be improved/optimally-developed through access to cloud-based solutions? Based on the answer to that question, a few things should be kept in mind when choosing a cloud-based service.
Core features and functionality is first on the list and the most important aspect when choosing a cloud-based app or service. In order to maximize the integration of cloud-based technology, it should match specific business needs. There is no “one-size fits all” approach, meaning that both customizability and the presence of relevant core features are vital. The next item is scalability. The ideal system is flexible and can grow with the business. In a consumer-driven industry like manufacturing, it is vital to have a product that can act and react. As mentioned above, security is the biggest concern for cloud-based technologies. It is vital to select a reputable provider to ensure that safety and security demands are met. Lastly, the system should be intuitive and easy to use. The goal is to streamline processes and make collaboration easier.
Existing providers have an extensive offering of products, but companies should ask themselves whether they can and want to cover their specific needs completely with a single provider. In many cases, it makes sense to consider a multi-cloud strategy for IaaS-related services in addition to using different SaaS solutions.
Conclusion and Outlook
Modern technologies give businesses the possibility to stay competitive in a demanding environment. In order to respond to new consumer demands, technology needs to be as agile as possible. Cloud-based technologies offer a fantastic opportunity for medium-sized manufacturing companies since they don’t depend on IT expertise and know-how and are intuitive to use.
The future of cloud-based technologies is bright. The Covid-19 pandemic has pushed along the adoption of the cloud thanks to the growth of the remote workforce model. The cloud “pandemic” is now spreading across businesses, “infecting” and transforming new areas. It is hard to remain immune to it, and we are not expecting any sort of vaccine in a foreseeable future. In other words, clouds are becoming a tech standard and a choice for a vast majority of customers.