When it comes to the cloud, companies are porting just about everything they can into this pay-to-play architecture that enables IT departments to offload applications and even infrastructure while gaining seamless scalability and anytime, anywhere delivery of services without the maintenance headache.
The cloud, in fact, is a critical aspect of the modern data center—which also now encompasses virtualization (where several virtual servers run on a single physical platform), converged fabrics (a consolidation of all of the communication between the local area network, the storage network, and the processing clusters), and data center infrastructure management (DCIM) tools (which provide a way to manage all of the organization’s physical assets in one dashboard).
With this new IT environment, many manufacturers are questioning how they could possibly incorporate product design, engineering, production processes, and quality control as part of the solutions that are popping up in IT. For the past several years, industry experts have dismissed the notion that anything to do with manufacturing operations management could possibly be moved into the questionable cloud. There are security and intellectual property risks, the argument has been. And that mindset has kept the factory floor locked safely behind the firewall, and even isolated from the enterprise by a demilitarized zone (DMZ), offering an extra layer of protection against incoming malware.
But the future of manufacturing just might depend on a company’s ability to change with the times and the technology. The news of Dassault Systèmes’ bid for Apriso really got me thinking. These are two leaders in 3D simulation/PLM, agile manufacturing operations management and manufacturing intelligence. Together, they could change the business of manufacturing as global operations require visibility, agility and analytics – something this duo could easily deliver.
In addition, the service age is upon us. As an industry we’ve embraced Software-as-a-Service (SaaS), Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS), Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS), even IT-as-a-Service (ITaaS). Don’t you think it’s time manufactures start to think of Manufacturing-as-a-Service (MaaS) as well?
The idea of MaaS does not equate to outsourcing, rather, as a way to deliver customizable, on-demand manufacturing scenarios. Imagine having the ability to add new functionalities to plant floor software systems and quickly adjust production systems to new requirements? This concept hinges on an inter-factory model that serves as a marketplace for virtualized manufacturing services. And, it is already being tested.
Behold “The ManuCloud” project, a consortium of European companies, universities, and industry organizations, which have been testing the concept of a service-oriented IT environment as the basis for the next level of manufacturing networks. ManuCloud seeks to implement the vision of a cloud-like architecture concept. It will provide users with the ability to utilize the manufacturing capabilities of configurable, virtualized production networks, based on cloud-enabled, federated factories, supported by a set of software-as-a-service applications. The concept is currently being tested on the photovoltaic, organic lighting, and automotive supply industries.
Meanwhile, other seeds of a similar sort are now being planted as a result of The Mozilla Ignite Challenge, an open innovation challenge from Mozilla and the National Science Foundation, to show how next-generation networks can revolutionize healthcare, public safety, manufacturing, energy, and more.
The teams are designing applications for the future in hopes of getting funding. One such app is the Manufacturing and Simulation for Virtual Enterprises solution. The goal is to use an ultra-fast gigabit network which supports collaboration among distributed tools and resources for design analysis, assembly planning, simulation and final assembly in a physical micro factory. In a nutshell, it creates a directory of manufacturing services that can be accessed and executed remotely.
While the ideas are currently being proven, the adoption of such set ups as part of mainstream manufacturing could take some time. Certainly many questions remain, including the concept of how strategic your ability to uniquely execute a manufacturing process. But, the recent news of Dassault Systèmes’ intended acquisition of Apriso could mark an important turning point in the adoption of these future applications. By integrating digital manufacturing technology with highly flexible operations management, companies could gain real-time control over design, production and quality across their global manufacturing networks. Together, these companies could change the whole manufacturing dynamic, opening new doors to innovation.
Yes, it is just the beginning. But, based on what’s happening in the industry right now, the future of manufacturing is bright. Very bright.
Stephanie can be found on Google+.