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Are We Ready for Cloud Manufacturing?

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 {complink 379|Apple Inc.} recently made a splash, Japan's {complink 2149|Fujitsu Ltd.} 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:

  1. Easy operations with no dedicated workstations:
  2. 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.

  3. Dramatically reduces manufacturing costs and development times:
  4. 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.

  5. Ties together multiple locations:
  6. 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?

16 comments on “Are We Ready for Cloud Manufacturing?

  1. eemom
    June 21, 2011

    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.

  2. Taimoor Zubar
    June 21, 2011

    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.

  3. eemom
    June 21, 2011

    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.

  4. Anand
    June 21, 2011

    @Taimoorz,

    To fully benefit from cloud computing, we must ensure that the data, applications and systems are properly secured so that the cloud infrastructure won't expose organization to risk. 

  5. prabhakar_deosthali
    June 22, 2011

    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.

  6. FLYINGSCOT
    June 22, 2011

    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.

  7. Wale Bakare
    June 22, 2011

    It is being great that tremedous efforts are being achived towards cloud IT innovation. Every cloud adoptors must perform testing of applications, infrasructures and plafroms ensuring maximum confidence before integrating cloud IT environment to organisation operations.

    Thus, risk of interagting IT cloud would reduce to a level where MIS can confidently implement.

     1  Operation  testing this needs done prior to integration of applications.

     2  Funtional testing is very imperative in this regard to ensure design applications, platforms and infrastructures are funtioning as expected on operation.

  8. jbond
    June 22, 2011

    After reading what Fujitsu has been offering, I think cloud manufacturing has serious staying power. Being able to access CAD from a non dedicated system is a huge step. Cloud manufacturing appears to be able to save some serious money for companies ready to take the leap. As soon as concerns about security are answered, I think there will be more companies looking to make the conversion to the cloud.

  9. mfbertozzi
    June 22, 2011

    Well, I agree. Going further, once concerns on “shared” ERP and security will be solved, a new one will come: SLA to negotiate between manufacturer and provider. As of today contract negotiation has achieved a standard template for example with regard to connections' availability or basic interworking services, but while discussion is going to move on ERP, which criteria will be adopted for services' continuity, penalties and so on? In my view, as happened in the past in electronics, cloud providers have to move forward also on these topics, before declaring readiness for manufacturing.

  10. tioluwa
    June 22, 2011

    I guess this is welcome to the cloud for all of us.

    I like the approach the tech industries are taking as regards the cloud. the fears are not deterring them rather, they are sporing them to greater action, while ensure the fears are catered for.

    Obviously the cloud's major challenge is security, once settled reasonably, things will kick off.

    With internet access becoming an human right, the cloud actually stands to improve global quality of living and access to information, and now with cloud manufacturing, access to endless resources as well.

    If Tech giants can step in first, others will surely follow suite.

  11. Himanshugupta
    June 22, 2011

    I also think so. It is not until there are some reliable providers and security concerns are dealt with, the cloud computing will still be in infancy. The major advantages of the cloud computing are lower cost and minimal infrastructure and this is specially beneficial for small businesses.

  12. Taimoor Zubar
    June 22, 2011

    @anandvy: That's a really important point. I think security on the cloud is very important especially when companies are relying on the clouds for critical business functions. Without adequate security over the cloud, companies might end up getting their product designs leaked out which can cost them heavily.

  13. Ms. Daisy
    June 22, 2011

    @eemom:

    Is it more of a trust issue or security of design work? How will trademark issues be managed? I welcome the ease of access to data and portability of information that this will provide to High Tech industries.

  14. eemom
    June 22, 2011

    I believe it to be more of a security issue than trademark issue.  Information placed on a cloud server is meant to provide access to customers which does not include proprietary trademark issues.  I could be wrong though, but that is my current understanding.

  15. bolaji ojo
    June 23, 2011

    TaimoorZ, The security concerns are real but service providers are acutely aware of this and working to assure customers this won't be a problem. They are reaching deep into the supply chain for solutions and working with semiconductor components makers to incorporate security at both software and hardware levels. The Cloud is merely an offshoot of the internet and companies have long ago sidelined internally developed intranets for the web. This won't be that much different but the impact is expected to be enormous.

  16. mfbertozzi
    June 23, 2011

    Well, I am really convinced eemom's perspective is one of the most important, but we have discussed a lot in previous posts about topics main related to technical concerns, including security. For manufacturers probably others are placed at first position of the rank: trademark, copyright, confidentiality of information. To be honest, as of today, could we list cloud providers for manufacturers in condition to allow applications and on top features to ensure above mentioned needs? Is there for example any procurement cloud service up and running (with customers' satisfaction)?

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