Cloud computing has found a home in the consumer world, but is it ready for the design, engineering, and manufacturing community? Moving discussions about the cloud beyond the consumer and automotive world, where Apple Inc. (Nasdaq: AAPL) recently made a splash, Japan's Fujitsu Ltd. (Tokyo: 6702; London: FUJ; OTC: FJTSY) is rolling out a similar offering to high-tech equipment vendors to help them "transform the manufacturing process," the company said in a press statement.
I know there are still many people in the high-tech community who doubt the potential of cloud computing to help reduce manufacturing snafus; slash product costs by eliminating duplication of services and IT resources; and generally smoothen design, procurement, and production processes. Fujitsu summed up the service it is introducing as follows:
The Engineering Cloud will provide customers access to these [engineering-support software and analytic software, as well as parts database software] services anywhere and anytime, without PC environment concerns, and without necessitating any special set-up beforehand. This promises to greatly reduce manufacturing costs and development times.
Although the cloud engineering services that Fujitsu plans to roll out starting in October are specific to the company, the elements of the service point the way forward for the high-tech world.
The idea of a central, outsourced, and available-anywhere point for supplier management, procurement, and inventory data is not new -- it is, after all, the foundation of all enterprise resource planning (ERP) programs -- but cloud computing takes it to another level. It transfers the responsibility and costs of managing the systems involved to a more efficient and effective third-party host. This allows services to be offered at a lower cost and, in addition, enables companies to access the offerings only when needed, and at multiple facilities.
Below are the three advantages Fujitsu expects to offer its potential customers through cloud computing. I expect these would be similar to what other cloud service providers will offer:
Easy operations with no dedicated workstations:
The cloud platform makes even 3D CAD operations run smoothly, thanks to RVEC high-speed image compression. The heavy-duty processing that once called for dedicated workstations can now be handled by a notebook computer or even a smartphone.
Dramatically reduces manufacturing costs and development times:
Server consolidation and license consolidation both reduce costs, and by using applications based on Fujitsu's know-how and by optimizing development methods, customers can shorten development cycles.
Ties together multiple locations:
This service obviously makes it possible to share data, but more than that, it lets geographically disperse members of a development team teleconference and share screens, allowing closer collaboration.
The concept sounds good and builds on ideas the industry has been exploring for decades: lower costs, increased specialization, and focus on core expertise/competence. But will it work in practice, and are manufacturers willing or likely to trust sensitive design, engineering, and supply chain information to a remote host, given the potential for increased security risks?
We saw a similar article a few weeks ago and the sentiment remains the same. I believe cloud computing is here to stay and will only become more pervasive as fears of security and availability are addressed. Once a few leaders in the field make the leap other will follow as the benefits should be visible to all. Our own company has talked about cloud computing for its remote design centers for a couple of years now but we still have not done anything due to the lack of infrastructure in our own company. If outside companies could show us the way for reasonable cost I am certain we would make the jump fairly quickly.
For a manufacturing company wishing to migrate to Cloud environment for the IT support in design, supply chain & shop floor, what is needed is the confidence building that the Cloud is not much differnt than than the services offered by your captive IT department. The difference is that it is not visible to you. To build the confidence into the dependability, reliability and security of this kind of service , one thing that the company can do is convert their own IT department to a private cloud, treat this as their pilot project , build the confidence that the cloud comuting works, get to know its naunces and then move onto the Cloud service provider. Though initially it may incur some costs , the confidence built during the pilot will definitely help for a smoother transition to third party cloud services later. For the IT department turning their department into a private cloud should be technologically not a difficult job.
I do agree with you and I believe that companies will have to earn such credibility. That is the trust factor I spoke about. As cloud vendors earn credibility, they will also earn the trust of companies that wish to outsource their processing. Server uptime and maintainance will be a huge factor in earning that trust.
I think the critical factor with cloud computing is the reliability. When you outsource the processing from your servers to a cloud vendor, it's actually a big risk and the vendor needs to have enough credibility. Also, you need a proper agreement with the vendor to ensure 'up-time' of the cloud service. Areas such as CAD are highly critical and most companies cannot afford disruptions in that.
Cloud computing has the potential to enjoy great success. The issue is trust in leaving software you need to run your business on someone else's server and have the confidence that the software will be maintained and accessible as needed. The idea of having software available to multiple locations, accessible on a portable tablet for example, as a manager walks through the production line, can prove priceless. Also, is the design automation world, having the software on the developers server where it can be constantly updated and still available to multiple customers can present major advantage in cost, flexibility and time to market. We will eventually move to Cloud computing, simply because it makes sense, it just may take a little time to gain the trust and confidence to allow the technology to proliferate.
By moving to the core of the industry and offerings services that keep the system humming, a group within the electronics market has rendered irrelevant the question of ownership and control of the supply chain.
EBN Dialogue enables and encourages you to participate in live chats with notable leaders and luminaries. Not only editors and journalists, but the entire EBN community is able to comment and ask questions. Listed below are upcoming and archived chats.
Thailand Stages a Comeback Join EBN contributor Jennifer Baljko on Thursday August 23, 2012, at 11:00 a.m. EST for a live chat on how electronic manufacturers in Thailand have shored up their supply chain to reduce the impact of future natural disasters.
Microsoft Surface: Potential Winners & Losers What are the implications for the electronics industry supply chain of Microsoft Corp.'s decision to launch its own tablet PC? Join industry veteran and EE Times' systems and OEM expert Rick Merritt on Tuesday, July 3, at 12:00 pm EDT for a Live Chat on this subject.
Join EBN contributor Jennifer Baljko on Thursday August 23, 2012, at 11:00 a.m. EST for a live chat on how electronic manufacturers in Thailand have shored up their supply chain to reduce the impact of future natural disasters.
Peter Drucker famously said "Trying to predict the future is like trying to drive down a country road at night with no lights while looking out the back window." Yet in the razor's-edge world of electronics—with a lean supply chain and just-in-time demands—the need to know the future is vital.
While no one really can accurately predict the future, we can take guidance from another Drucker saying which is the best way to predict the future is to create it.
You've heard the saying "the No. 1 supply chain risk is your people." That hasn't always been the case. But today's complex global supply chain requires a new type of multitalented employee. It's one who understands, finance, marketing, economics, is savvy with technology, graceful with relationships and can think analytically.
Where are these people? Are universities properly preparing the next generation supply chain professionals? How do train your existing workforce for these new, demanding positions?
Brian Fuller, editor-in-chief of EBN, will lead a 60-minute Avnet Velocity panel discussion that will ask and answer these and other questions swirling around today's supply-chain talent challenges.