Cloud computing, SaaS and the new normal for manufacturers

Cloud

Over the last two to three decades, cloud computing and software-as-a-service (SaaS) have been increasingly gaining momentum in their adoption. More and more IT departments, CIOs, CFOs, CEOs and many other disciplines are now realizing the extraordinary business benefits of Cloud/SaaS over their traditional in-house client-server IT architectures. 

Justifiably therefore, more and more manufacturers are actively switching their legacy quality management systems to more advanced cloud-based quality platforms, and for good reason. Simply put, in today’s ever-changing and volatile manufacturing climate, the cost advantages, power, and versatility of the cloud have become essential to survival. Coupling this with the advancement and maturation of core technologies, most organizations are now adopting a 'cloud-first' stance when selecting the latest and best in-class technology capabilities.

The role of the pandemic

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The accelerated adoption of cloud-first strategies across the board by manufacturers can no doubt be attributed to the pandemic. In order to support remote workers through any time, anywhere access to critical business processes and information, businesses rapidly deployed and migrated to cloud-based solutions. Industries across all sectors had their hands forced; prior prejudices around cloud where overtaken by the fact that they had to act quickly to protect their business from being left behind as the world began to shut down.

As a result, legacy systems became a high priority for digital transformation. In particular, with a view to cloud/SaaS-based alternatives. But this goes beyond just replacing old with new. Instead, companies are discovering the powerful new breed of next-generation solutions and capabilities that can help support their future growth operational efficacy, well in to the future.

The cloud upends how manufacturers can collect, store, analyze and leverage value from their quality data. Data becomes unified in a centralized repository, and its subsequent analyses become rapidly available and effortlessly consumable, providing information and real-time intelligence organization-wide. 

The rising demand for industry 4.0

Currently, manufacturers stand on the 'tipping point' of a cloud-based digital manufacturing revolution. A cloud-first strategy is becoming the gold standard standard for most legacy renovation projects and a major technology consideration in a post-pandemic strategy. Many have embraced the push for digital transformation in recent years to meet the increasing demand for power, flexibility and versatility that cloud solutions provide. 

Industry 4.0 marks a promise of a new, fourth, industrial revolution -- all in the quest to overcome the current limits to productivity and innovation that manufacturers currently find themselves curtailed by. Automation has plateaued when it comes to providing sizable gains in efficiency, so turning to what Industry 4.0 can provide is surely the answer.

Liberating your data from traditional limitations

We still see a significant proportion of manufacturers locking away their data in paper formats, excel spreadsheets, or legacy software, which ultimately prevents efficient performance monitoring or sharing of information across the manufacturing supply chain. Cloud-based quality solutions on the other hand provide a single, unified data repository where manufacturers can standardize and centralize quality data -- from all processes, production lines, and sites across their enterprise.

With data available in real-time via the cloud, the "big picture" is more available to view than ever. Manufacturers can analyze data across their entire enterprise to pinpoint problem areas, identify sources best practices and prioritize their resources. While at the same time ensuring regulatory compliance and improving quality consistency across the entire organization. 

Respond proactively on the plant floor

A preventative approach to quality and safety just isn’t possible when using manual methods for data collection and analysis. Operators spend valuable time recording data with a pencil and paper, then sift through page after page of control charts -- on top of all their other daily responsibilities. It’s easy to see how mistakes could be made and production issues could be missed.

Quality teams are also at a disadvantage, reviewing historical data about products that have already come off the production line. They are one step behind, and often by that point, it’s too late. Some problems may not be identified until the final inspection if even caught at all. Manufacturers end up dealing with defective products, wasted resources, and damaging recalls.

In employing cloud strategies to manage data, trends or problems can be detected and monitored in real-time. With legacy systems these problems and quality issues can potentially go unchecked for some considerable time, the cloud allows for a more immediate response. Proactive approaches are key to reducing waste, protecting profits and keeping quality up at all times. 

Cloud-based statistical process control (SPC) software can automatically collect measurement values from a variety of data sources, and then monitor processes in real-time. When the software detects specification or statistical violations, automated alarms instantly alert key personnel, allowing them to take immediate action to correct any issues. 

With information readily available via the cloud, leadership remains present in the situation without needing to be present on the floor and has all the information needed to work on preventing problems and ensuring operations run smoothly. This in turn allows manufacturers to spot any trends and prevent reoccurring issues on a wider level.

The new normal

As months go by, manufacturers are embracing the new normal one step at a time -- a new, digital-driven quality age. Cloud computing may have appeared as a great change in the past, but embracing these technologies has become easier when starting small. By starting with single projects governed by a cloud solution, leadership can monitor the benefits in a microcosm before deploying it across their organization. This is only the first step to introducing new digital technology on the manufacturing floor and thus embracing the new normal that manufacturers should expect to be industry-wide in the next few years. 

Photo Credit: TierneyMJ/Shutterstock

Jason Chester is Director of Global Channel Programs, InfinityQS

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