Cloud computing is a revolutionary technology that is transforming operations in many sectors by providing infinite computing capabilities via the internet. It enables manufacturing companies to discover new opportunities, increase productivity, enhance product quality, shorten turnaround times, and effectively manage dispersed production assets. Manufacturing is dynamic and experiences multiple supply chain disruptions. In the age of stiff global competition, companies must adopt innovative solutions to address these challenges.

The role of cloud computing goes beyond the interconnectivity of personnel and equipment. It supports the operation of other core technologies that are facilitating a shift toward the fourth industrial revolution. Cloud technology supports the IIoT, industrial robots and automation devices, rapid prototyping facilities, 3D printers, enterprise resource planning (ERP) software, and other smart manufacturing utilities.

Integrating cloud technologies has several benefits for the manufacturing sector, including the following.

  • Scalability.
  • Enhanced system reliability.
  • Quick turnaround times.
  • Revenue growth.
  • Centralized management of personnel, equipment, and data.
  • Cost savings.

Types of cloud computing

Based on the status of ownership and extent of use, there are different types of cloud computing technologies described below.

Public cloud — The public cloud is owned and managed by third-party service providers. They lease cloud computing infrastructure to manufacturing companies aiming to migrate or scale up operations using cloud technology. It means that several businesses share the same cloud. A third-party service provider segments the cloud to ensure fair distribution of cloud infrastructure to different clients. Segmentation is critical for combating security issues and enhancing the privacy of information.

Public clouds are flexible. The client pays for cloud resources depending on the computing power required for successful manufacturing operations and companies can scale their operations in response to changing business needs.

Private cloud — A private cloud is dedicated to a single business. Access to cloud computing infrastructure is restricted to specific manufacturing facilities. These networks lack a third-party service provider that maintains computing infrastructure. The manufacturing business is responsible for setting up and maintaining cloud resources which is a disadvantage, as poor maintenance will increase the cost of ownership.

Private clouds are more secure, since administrative access is restricted to a single business. The manufacturing company adjusts its cloud computing resources to suit specific business needs. They are costly to scale up as the business must pay for additional information technology resources.  

Hybrid cloud — Hybrid clouds combine the advantages of public and private clouds. This type of cloud technology enables companies to sustainably scale up their operations while enjoying the stringent privacy of private clouds. 

There are two ways to shift operations to hybrid clouds. The first is using both public and private clouds at once. The company relies on private clouds to manage confidential or proprietary information and leverages public clouds to perform regular manufacturing operations.

Alternatively, the company can use private networks for routine operations as long as the workloads are within a permissible limit. As demand for computing power increases, the company shifts its operations to the public cloud to bridge the increasing demand.

Multi-cloud — Multi-cloud architectures are advanced versions of the hybrid cloud and are the most flexible type of cloud computing. Companies that employ this strategy utilize third-party service providers to set upsolutions that allow resource access within a single network. 

Understanding cloud services

A cloud service is infrastructure, software solutions, or a platform owned or managed by a third-party service provider. Manufacturing businesses access the service through the internet and utilize it for diverse “as a service” production operations.

Software as a service (SaaS)

SaaS avails internet-based software solutions that address different manufacturing needs. The software consists of mobile apps, web applications, and computer software accessible using mobile devices. The service provider handles software maintenance and security upgrades while the customer leverages several manufacturing tools through a dedicated dashboard or application programming interface (API). SaaS offers an effective way to ensure access to manufacturing software remotely for several employees. 

Typical SaaS solutions for manufacturing include cloud-based ERP solutions, computer-aided design and manufacturing software, and manufacturing execution systems (MES). Smart manufacturing systems using digital twins rely on SaaS offerings of third-party service providers. 

Infrastructure as a service (IaaS)

Some service providers offer more than working software solutions — they invest in robust IT infrastructure to enable manufacturing companies to store data and software solutions. The IT resources are virtual and accessible to customers remotely. The manufacturing company pays for cloud-based servers and unrestricted access over a specific time. 

Platform as a service (PaaS)

Manufacturing needs vary from one company to another. Companies may require additional software features and resort to developing their own manufacturing solutions. Platform as a service enables them to customize manufacturing solutions and monitor their usage over time. 

Tips for selecting cloud services

Manufacturers may experience difficulty evaluating the viability of diverse cloud technologies for their operations. How can they navigate the selection process with ease?

  1. Understand the intensity of workload and their requirement for computing power. Choose a public cloud or advanced multi-clouds if the workloads fluctuate over time. 
  2. Evaluate the desired safety requirements of the company’s manufacturing systems. Private networks provide superior system security.
  3. Determine the quantity of data collected or required for the effective operation of manufacturing systems. Data handling capabilities of public clouds are higher than those of private clouds. 
  4. Estimate the budgetary requirements. Private clouds are expensive to scale up and maintain while public cloud technology is preferable for its affordability.

Final remarks

Cloud computing is a beneficial technology for the manufacturing sector. Companies looking to maintain their competitive advantage and improve the quality of manufacturing activities should migrate their operations to the cloud and reap the benefits: better scalability, quicker turnaround times, increased revenues, and cost savings, among others. 

Manufacturers should be careful with choosing the right cloud service, since they differentiate with their capabilities and price. While going through a selection process, they should keep in mind their workload intensity, safety requirements, the quantity of data they need for their systems, and the budget they have for investing in a needed solution.