Digital manufacturing is executed on the ground, but increasingly, the thinking is being done in the cloud. What happens on the factory floor doesn’t stay there, but is uploaded as data to the cloud for validation, visibility, and analytic crunching to find patterns, make predictions, and prescribe actions.
The cloud was a simpleton years ago—a place to park data, not unlike the rental lockers where you stash your stuff. But it turns out the dunce had a higher IQ than originally thought, and can do a lot more than first advertised.
Cloud providers are now offering applications on their platforms to execute digital manufacturing across the entire product lifecycle, from design through manufacturing execution and logistics. The cloud has been a boon to the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), giving digital manufacturing aspirants a low-cost, scalable way to view, use, and analyze data from all corners of the enterprise and outside its walls.
The cloud is now tackling the real Brainiac stuff, through artificial intelligence and machine, deep, and neural learning. Machine learning can parse almost unfathomable amounts of data to find valuable information, something the largest human workforce couldn’t possibly do. It can uncover trends, and signal alerts, to better deliver on digital manufacturing’s goal of quicker response to changing conditions. These insights form the basis for the higher-order business analysis needed to constantly tune and prioritize investment in support of a digital manufacturing strategy.
A report from the American Enterprise Institute and the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation—How Cloud Computing Enables Modern Manufacturing—cited how Johnson & Johnson used the cloud to analyze big data for insights. “Big” data hardly does the company justice—J&J has over 260 operating units in some 65 countries. “It’s very difficult for us to bring all the information together in order to make enterprise-wide decisions,” said J&J’s director of enterprise architecture.
Johnson & Johnson runs some 120 cloud apps to process data in near real time and untangle patterns in areas like inventory management and forecasting new revenue opportunities. “What the cloud has enabled us to do is make sense of that data,” said J&J’s chief technology officer. “It’s giving us the scale we need to operate and the ability to scale up and scale out. These new clouds in combination with new technologies, such as machine learning, have allowed us to flatten out the time to insight.”
The report said Pfizer asked over 500 suppliers to put into place a common, cloud-based information exchange framework—sitting “above” their physical assets and supply chains—so each supplier shows up as a node in the virtual chain. Pfizer said its now gotten faster, and enters markets more efficiently.
That’s where the value lies—in being able to move fast and move smart. It’s the promise of digital manufacturing, and the cloud is sprouting the brains to make it happen.
That cloud hovering above the digital manufacturing floor has nothing ominous about it.