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Reining in on industrial automation 09/05/2017

As we enter the era of the smart factory, Johannes Petrowisch, global partner & business development manager of industrial automation software expert, COPA-DATA, shares his view on the benefits of cloud computing for 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.

Head in the clouds

In recent years, we’ve heard a lot about cloud computing, but its role in the manufacturing industry is not always clear. Manufacturers are not well known for investing heavily in the latest IT systems and technologies on a regular basis, so why are so many now deploying cloud computing software in their organisations? 

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.  

Energy data management

For industry, there are few topics as widely discussed as the European Union’s Energy Efficiency Directive. However, performing a meaningful evaluation of a manufacturing facility’s energy efficiency is only possible when energy consumption figures are available in a complete manner. 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. 

Predictive analytics

By embracing the cloud, manufacturers no longer simply collect data but instead, gain actionable insights from it. Whether it’s for quality improvement, sales forecasts or preventative maintenance, predictive analytics or machine learning can give manufacturers an edge over their competitors and possibly, a complete new service to sell.

Calm before the storm

Although the benefits of moving to cloud computing are clear, that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s an easy decision for manufacturers to make. 

For some employees, there is an inevitable fear surrounding the idea of storing production data off-premises. Although concerns about data loss, security breaches and lack of data ownership 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. 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. 

Above the clouds

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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