The Next Industrial Revolution—Manufacturing in the Cloud

The manufacturing world is set to change again, this time it’s not steam and steel driving the revolution but something entirely intangible. The cloud revolution is coming to manufacturers in the shape of Industry 4.0, the 4th Industrial Revolution (4IR). So how can manufacturers capitalize on this new way of working for maximum benefit? 
 
Industry 4.0 will represent the combination of cyber-physical systems, the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), and cloud computing. In its simplest form, it is smart factories with machines that are connected to the internet and are part of a system that can visualize the entire production chain. A report from the Engineering Employers' Federation (EEF), the industry body for manufacturing and engineering, issued a stark warning that the manufacturing industry was in fact, ‘ill-prepared’ for the next wave of technological developments.
 
While change is scary, failing to keep up with the times could be even more detrimental. With so many competitors vying for the same market share, the smallest advantage could make a big difference. This advantage usually boils down to manufacturing quality and consistently delivering the highest quality products. However, the definition or degree of quality can be different for geographically disparate plants, even though they are all producing the same product.
 
While many manufacturers are fairly mature in their specific industries, their technology hasn’t changed over the years. Many manufacturers believe adopting new software and processes across operations requires a large investment and, therefore, are unwilling to upgrade. This is especially true since many of their current systems require a significant capital expenditure. The use of legacy IT systems and the idea that ‘if it isn’t broken, why fix it’ permeate the industry with many manufacturers skeptical about the true benefits that the cloud can have for their business.
 
So what does the cloud help manufacturers do that the old legacy systems can’t?
 
  • Review quality of all your products, from every plant around the world, on a single screen.
  • Make quality adjustments from one device, which are then transmitted to every plant operation.
  • Eliminate individual plant processing systems and use one, unified, connected system throughout
  • Increase product quality across all plants, reducing the chances of costly recalls and damaged reputations
  • Increase insight into suppliers’ operations to ensure they are matching the manufacturers’ high levels of quality
 
In short, cloud offerings can boost processing speeds and help turn manufacturing quality into a competitive advantage. Plus, adopting Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) turns a manufacturer’s capital expenditure into a lower, predictable operating expense and offers the opportunity to reduce the overall costs associated with operating software.
 
Many manufacturers recognize the benefits that digital technology can bring to their operations, with research from the EEF stating that 61% of organizations believe it would boost their production. However, a number of respondents are hesitant to move to a cloud-based approach, highlighting the risks manufacturers are weighing. This unwillingness to move to a unified system of quality control across manufacturing plants exposes these manufacturers to quality variables that can put the company in jeopardy of recalls.
 
As with the previous Industrial Revolutions, huge benefits are up for grabs, but only to those who are willing to make the move to a cloud-based system. The barriers associated with cost, training, and security can be easily counteracted by the speed, efficiency, and uniform manufacturing quality that will be delivered across plants once the new systems are in place. Digital transformation is happening and those who embrace it stand to gain the most.
 
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