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Are you ready to move to the Cloud?

21 November 2016

As we enter the era of the smart factory, Johannes Petrowisch discusses the benefits of cloud computing for the manufacturing industry.

While cloud computing certainly isn’t a new phenomenon in the IT and consumer environments has only recently started to find its place in the manufacturing industry. As industrial automation becomes more intelligent and manufacturers embrace machine-to-machine (M2M) technology, cloud computing looks to be the obvious solution for storing and managing the ever-growing quantity of production data coming from the plant into the SCADA system. 

In its simplest form, cloud computing allows for the storage and access data over the Internet. However, for the manufacturing industry, the cloud can do much more. Aside from increased storage space, the cloud can help reduce costs, change business models, provide new services, increase agility, optimise performance and ultimately, drive profitability.  

Energy data management
While legal requirements, such as complying with the Energy Savings Opportunity Scheme (ESOS), are clear, strategies for meeting these requirements are not always as straightforward. 

Performing a meaningful evaluation of a facility’s energy efficiency is only possible when energy consumption figures are available in a complete manner. This data needs to be compared against other factors, such as machine and process data, number of items produced and more. To make sense of the data produced on the shop floor, many manufacturers are deploying energy data management systems (EDMS). 

These systems are now generally 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. 

Traditionally, organisations with more than one production site would monitor energy efficiency locally. However, Cloud computing now allows energy managers to track this data on a global scale, regardless of their location. Not only does this help set benchmarks for company-wide efficiency standards, it also creates opportunities to develop new business models to tackle energy management, head on.

The Cloud offers an obvious cost advantage. Rather than paying a set amount for on-site infrastructure the cloud can make costs easier to calculate because they are based on a pay as you go basis. Because the platform is hosted by a third-party, there is also no need for hardware installation or ongoing maintenance, keeping operation costs to a minimum.

Predictive analytics
The benefits of cloud computing do not stop with the manufacturer. By embracing the cloud, manufacturers no longer simply collect data but instead, gain actionable insights from it. Take, for example, a manufacturer of variable speed drives (VSDs). If the manufacturer could examine data from the VSD, such as its production date, estimated lifecycle and consumer usage rates, in addition to behavioural data and predictive analytics from the cloud it would be possible to gain an intelligent forecast of when and where the product was likely to fail. 

Using these analytics, it is possible to offer customers an entirely new service: an ongoing maintenance plan created with intelligent and factual data, that is especially beneficial for machine builders and industrial suppliers. 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 offer them a new saleable service.
Calm before the storm
Before making a move to the Cloud it is important to first decide on the objectives and reasoning for the choice and a specific migration strategy needs to be put in place first.
One of the most common concerns when moving to the cloud is how the move can be achieved without disrupting the existing IT infrastructure. Another is how to integrate a new procedure into established operational routines. 

For some, the fear surrounding the idea of storing production data off-premises needs to be overcome. 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 provides a secondary data centre to act as the recovery site, meaning even in the unlikely event of data loss, it isn’t gone forever. 

Microsoft’s Azure platform is also compatible with a number of energy data management systems. COPA-DATA’s software, zenon, for example, is based on Microsoft technology so can be seamlessly integrated into its cloud platform. This provides a complete end-to-end Internet of Things (IoT) solution for manufacturers, from industrial machinery to the cloud and mobile devices. 

Moving to cloud computing isn’t just about moving data storage off-site. Used correctly, the cloud can enhance performance in production, efficiency and potentially the entire business model. 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. Without taking a step forward companies risk being left behind.

Johannes Petrowisch is an industrial automation software expert at COPA-DATA. 

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