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Why Every Manufacturer Can Think in “The Cloud”

Why Every Manufacturer Can Think in “The Cloud”

Cloud computing once was considered only for large enterprises. Learn what's driving more small- and mid-sized firms to transition to a cloud network.

By Ted Hill, Director, Global Business Development, Rockwell Automation, Industrial IP Advantage

Does your organization view the cloud as technology for the future? Or a sophisticated networking and industrial computing prospect available only to large enterprises? It's time to rethink what's possible. Every manufacturer can confidently make the move to cloud-based computing.

This article explores the characteristics that enable a manufacturer to deploy a cloud network for storing, accessing, sharing and leveraging data from Internet-connected devices.

  1. Exploiting the cloud is less intimidating from a resources perspective.

    Tapping into the benefits of cloud computing is more manageable and routine than it was even a few years ago. Previously, only large-scale manufacturers could allocate and maintain investments in infrastructure, licensing, training, engineering and security necessary for enterprise-wide applications. Sustaining those applications in constantly changing manufacturing environments was a continuous challenge.

    Today, the cloud enables every organization to harness the technology to achieve more powerful automation, networking and “smart” production by connecting their operations and business systems together into a connected enterprise.

  2. Boundary-dissolving technologies redefine what’s possible.

    Boundary-eliminating wireless and broadband communication is ubiquitous. Until recently, a significant obstacle was access to the network. Connectivity anytime and anywhere, combined with the mobile processing power carried in smartphones and tablets, puts cloud-based solutions within closer reach.

    Meanwhile, Industrial Internet Protocol (IP) networking structure and industrial, unmodified Ethernet are seamlessly connecting conventional automation equipment (PAC/PLC, I/O, drives) with IP-enabled digital devices adopted from other disciplines (video, security).

    This simplified connectivity among devices, processes, systems and people — combined with cost-efficient cloud computing — is transforming industrial expectations.

  3. Declining costs lower the threshold for justifying high-end capability.

    Using a unified, IP-centric networking infrastructure to optimize interoperability lowers the cost of processing power, storage and bandwidth. This makes it realistic for manufacturers of any size to affordably access multiple, aggregated sources of data stored in the cloud.

    Remote monitoring and support, for example, have been deployed for more than a decade. Typically, only larger operations facing extreme performance challenges could justify capital investments in hardware and dedicated high-speed communication links. Cloud-based solutions drive hardware and software infrastructure costs towards zero, continually lowering the threshold to deploy advanced automation.

  4. Concerns about data security in the cloud can be addressed today.

    “We could never allow our manufacturing data to go into a public cloud.” This perspective is prevalent. But security perceptions, as evidenced by the delicate nature of data routinely entrusted to public and private clouds across a range of industries, differ from reality.

    Different industries have been willing to adopt cloud technologies earlier than others. Both the banking and health-care sectors have been early adopters. Those reluctant to put manufacturing-related data in the cloud might not realize that other parts of the company already are using a variety of cloud-based applications.

Remote Asset Monitoring Makes the Case

The increasing sophistication of remote systems monitoring, asset management and engineering support demonstrates how cloud technology facilitates IP-enabled “intelligent connected enterprise” advances in plant-floor security, connectivity, performance and ease of integration.

A mission-critical production asset like a medium-voltage drive illustrates the point. A nonfunctioning drive on an oil and gas drilling platform can cause a significant loss of revenue.

Given that risk, energy companies are well-established remote-services users. The cloud takes significant cost and complexity out of the equation, enabling manufacturing operations of any scale to deploy 24/7 monitoring of drive applications.

Moving remote access and support to the cloud allows a manufacturer to easily monitor performance of drives located in isolated locations. Critical data about the drive can quickly be made available to experts. Now, when a drive issues a warning or fault, the information is propagated easily to create a work ticket for a support engineer.

Within minutes, a cloud-based asset monitoring application has an expert looking at the fault and making recommendations to the control room on the corrective actions to take to address the problem.

Online Community Demonstrates Power of Industrial IP

A new source of network technology information, the Industrial IP Advantage community, offers guides, case studies, white papers and discussions on how standard Internet Protocol (IP) networking technologies can be used throughout the Connected Enterprise to boost productivity, efficiency and flexibility.

Industrial IP Advantage promotes the idea that manufacturing and other industrial firms can build more successful businesses by deploying a secure, holistic, digital-communications fabric using standard, unmodified IP. Companies can turn this vision into reality through connectivity that drives better business intelligence, increased profitability and reduced costs.

Industrial IP Advantage was established by Cisco, Panduit, Rockwell Automation and ODVA. They joined together to educate the market on the benefits of Ethernet, Internet Protocol and EtherNet/IP™. To learn more, visit www.industrial-ip.org.

Cloud computing shifts risk from the user to service providers. Within a traditional manufacturing application, the manufacturer is accountable for everything.

Cloud-based computing removes a significant portion of the exposure by converting the infrastructure, cloud platform and software to purchased (or subscription) services. At significantly lower risk, the manufacturer captures the value of cost-efficient cloud computing, plus the specialized, performance-enhancing domain expertise that a vendor-partner provides.

Cloud “elasticity” makes infinite processing power affordable. Cloud computing enables a single instance of software, running in the cloud to serve multiple client organizations (tenants). Virtually partitioning data and configurations enables each customer to work with a customized version of the shared application at required levels of security, reliability and performance consistency.

A cloud platform solution can scale and be cost-effective from a few machines or thousands of devices.

Cloud solutions open the door to making better decisions with the support of nonmanufacturing data assets. The cloud allows access to a tremendous amount of outcome-relevant information  that’s external to traditional manufacturing sources. One example is energy-related information. Depending on a facility’s geographic location, options on how energy gets to the operating plant, along with per-unit costs and the impact of variable rates, are tied to information that originates beyond the manufacturing process.

In a remote asset-monitoring scenario, it might be important to consider weather as a variable. The rules for whether a piece of equipment is working optimally, and what corrective action needs to be taken, can vary depending on whether the equipment is deployed in Texas or Alaska. Using a GPS coordinate, it’s straightforward to determine the current and historic environmental conditions where a piece of equipment is operating.

Cloud spend hits the operations, not capital, budget. The cloud is a positive force for turning a traditional capital expense into a line item easier to justify as part of an operations budget.

A cloud solution enables a manufacturer to purchase everything as a service — the platform, software and support — in the same way a consumer pays a fixed amount per month for Internet access or phone service.

What’s Coming

Cloud computing’s untapped, limitless processing power and data storage soon will be as pervasive throughout industrial manufacturing as it is in daily living. In a recent survey, 54% of respondents said they hardly ever use the cloud, even though 95% routinely use cloud services such as Facebook, Gmail and YouTube — along with applications that range from banking to health care.

The ever-evolving intelligent enterprise will be powered by a level of data aggregation, data analytics and integration never before possible. The main drivers are cloud computing and a unifying, industrial IP-centric network infrastructure that combines hardware and software over standard, open industrial Ethernet for ever-greater levels of production process quality, efficiency, security and safety performance.

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