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The Cloud and Innovation in Manufacturing

cloud manufacturing
By: Dan Johnson

You can’t go to an industrial technology trade show, conference, or seminar today without someone talking about innovation. In many cases, it’s a fairly nebulous reference to some vague improvement in processes or operational efficiencies. It’s tough to wrap your arms around.

However, the importance of innovation in manufacturing can’t be emphasized enough -- today’s highly competitive markets demand innovation in manufacturing in order for manufacturers to succeed and grow. And we’re not talking about innovative new products or a trendy new approach to a tried-and-true process. No. What we’re really talking about is innovation at all levels of manufacturing operations – both production processes and management. 

Let’s be clear – innovation does not come without some risk. How do you minimize that risk? By lowering capex and opex. And one of the best ways to do that is to move appropriate processes and operations to the cloud. This, in turn, reduces infrastructure, and less infrastructure sets the stage for a faster, more agile organization.   

Innovation is not possible without agility. Manufacturers looking to gain a competitive edge are turning to the cloud in increasing numbers as a principal means for gaining the agility to drive innovation and growth.

The cloud enables turn-on-a-dime responses to changing market trends and conditions, accelerating the product development lifecycle and streamlining supply chain management. The cloud fosters innovation in manufacturing by reducing burdensome IT costs, freeing up resources, and removing organizational and geographic boundaries. Collaboration becomes easier, process improvement faster, and the manufacturing environment more flexible and dynamic in general, priming the pump for innovation.

In this modern economy, data drives everything. For manufacturers embracing a Lean methodology or other efficiency-based business strategy, collecting, analyzing, and utilizing ERP data is critical. The cloud provides the virtually unlimited storage space and scalable computing power necessary to make the most efficient use of data and mine its potential for fueling innovative product development.

On a more tactical level, the cloud takes operational control out of the hands of the IT department and places it directly with business and shop floor managers who can quickly change and enhance functionality. Cloud-based APIs and modules can be added and removed to accommodate changes and support on-the-fly innovation and improvement. In fact, the ability to integrate, manage, and monitor all the resources on the shop floor through the cloud can have a dramatic impact on virtually every aspect of manufacturing.

Managers and workers can directly see improvements in information and process flows that can lead to improved operations and product quality. Real-time data and instructions are managed in the cloud to run processes, improve utilization, and reduce energy consumption. In short, the cloud becomes a core platform for integrating new technologies, driving process efficiency and innovation in manufacturing operations and the finished goods they produce.