Manufacturing in the Cloud

Manufacturing in the Cloud

Why the future is up in the air (And it’s not a bad thing)

A new report from ERP software company Plex Systems highlights today’s manufacturing platforms as they continue to untether from their formerly tangible roots. So where’s everything going?

Manufacturing systems have become much lighter and detached—we’re moving away from the plug and into the cloud. “The State of Manufacturing Technology” report from Plex reveals modern manufacturers are on board with and continue to convert to cloud-based platforms as the underlying foundation of their business structure. In fact, respondents in the study listed cloud software “among the most important technologies in strengthening their competitive edge in the next five years.”

career_headerA whopping 90 percent of those surveyed stated data security either was not impacted or was improved by moving to the cloud—a refreshing stat for industry veterans skeptical abut the security of cloud-based systems. The report explains the importance of this transformation: “The ability to connect and manage all the resources on the shop floor has a dramatic impact on virtually every aspect of manufacturing…Not only do respondents see improvements in information and process flows, but they recognize that the cloud has directly enabled improvements in product quality.”

The report also reminded us of the importance of machine-to-machine technology—M2M—as a foundational concept of the Internet of Things.“Fifty percent of manufacturing cloud transactions are machine-to-machine,” according to the report.“While consumer technology companies are starting to weave the Internet of Things into everything from refrigerators to smoke alarms, manufacturing has for years depended on a rich network of machines, tools, materials, products and people.”

The application of M2M technology in factories like PMT drives efficiency. One example is our plant’s plastic grinding machines. They have proprietary sensors that cut off the motors if left unattended or in standby mode. This single use of M2M in PMT’s manufacturing process saves the plant over 891,000 kWh annually—equivalent to powering 81 U.S. households for an entire year, according to the EIA.

PMT has remained connected via IQMS’ ERP solution system for over 6 years. Everything interacts with the ERP constantly—PLCs on the presses, scanners reading bar codes, and team members using iPads all provide status updates in real-time.

The outlook on wearables from this report is on-trend with the devices many team members already use at PMT: “The emergence of wearable technology – from activity trackers to smart glasses and smart watches – has the potential to deliver real-time, location-specific information, capture rich data and even improve worker safety.” Translating the activity-tracking model we already use into the actual manufacturing process holds great potential for increased efficiency and safety awareness.

At NPE2015, PMT team members saw wearables incorporated into this process in a clever way. Novatec, a manufacturer of resin dyers, debuted machine wearables at NPE. These sensors monitor, or more accurately, “prophesize”, machine function by measuring factors like vibration, sound and air flow to determine if a machine is running properly—and alerts operators to a potential problem before it happens.

Enthusiasm about the future of manufacturing is visible across the spectrum of industries affected by it. Another new report that caught our eye, released last week by consulting group McKinsey & Company, also touted the arrival of the cutting-edge of manufacturing platforms. In “Industry 4.0: How to Navigate a Changing Industrial Landscape”, the report states: “The advancement of manufacturing in the U. S., Japan, and Germany will progressively depend on a mix of in-manufacturing plant sensors, expanded utilization of investigation and information science, in-industrial facility use of increased reality (like Google Glass), and exceptional increments in how 3-D printing is utilized for the mass business.”

According to Product Design & Development, the McKinsey report states the fourth Industrial Revolution is “enabled by disruptive digital technologies that are expected to change the manufacturing sector by 2025 through significant innovation.”

Our major takeaway: “Cost is no longer the chief driver of manufacturing: quality, speed and innovation are the new keys to competitiveness”, according to Plex Systems. PMT uses those keys to unlock our company’s continued success, all the while moving full-throttle into the cloud.