Typically, manufacturing applications have been locally-hosted, on-premise deployments mostly developed from scratch to be extremely specific to the user needs and business cases they cater to. Manufacturers have frowned upon cloud-based application deployment due to perceived availability, latency, and security issues. However, that perception is changing and changing fast. Software as a service–or SaaS, as it is popularly referred to–is bringing all Industry 4.0 technologies to the forefront for manufacturers. Everything from edge computing to AI and IIoT to augmented reality is being enabled through cloud-based deployment, which is faster, better, cheaper, and more secure than any on-premise deployment could ever be.
Up until recently, frontline workforce management and platforms that enable the establishment of a connected-worker ecosystem were not priorities for manufacturers. This, too, is changing rapidly, and frontline workers, their practices, their data, and their ability to make decisions in real-time based on contextualized and actionable intel are becoming priorities. Cloud has the potential to go beyond plug-and-play deployment. When it comes to FLW platforms, it can be as simple as pay and play, with citizen developers creating their own applications and generating value from the get go faster than the on-prem alternative.
So, it is imperative for us to understand what has changed about cloud and manufacturing. Why does SaaS make sense for manufacturers now? And what do manufacturers need to consider, change, and achieve when they decide to give SaaS and cloud-based solutions a chance?
Understanding What Makes SaaS Work:
Accenture published a guide that addresses two main questions: What is the value of cloud in manufacturing? And how can manufacturers effectively go about implementing it? While this guide references MES and MOM applications, the knowledge can be applied universally to all software platforms and solutions that are cloud native or offer some combination of local plus cloud-type hybrid infrastructure. Cloud works in manufacturing if it maximizes business efficiency, maximizes IT efficiency, and minimizes IT risk. Let’s take a closer look at how Accenture explains these three factors and establish why cloud works for manufacturing and how manufacturers can get the best out of their cloud deployments.
Maximizing Business Efficiency- Cloud brings with it the entire technology gamut associated with Industry 4.0, big-data analytics, artificial intelligence, IIoT, and other SaaS capabilities. Manufacturers can greatly benefit from using a platform that already incorporates these technologies rather than modifying or completely rebuilding their current applications and point solutions. From a business-efficiency perspective, the SaaS model has a few distinct advantages:
- Cloud-based applications can be deployed instantly without the need for local infrastructure and manpower to develop, maintain, and support the solution.
- Secure data transfer across organizational boundaries and pay-per-use commercials allow for better value-chain collaboration and low initial costs.
- Cloud enables AI, which augments decision-making on the shop floor. This makes predictive maintenance, faster NPI, and improved quality a reality for manufacturers.
- With advanced SaaS platforms, you can retrofit process equipment with sensors and use data from said sensors for enhanced maintenance and production decision-making faster than ever.
- SaaS platforms also enable NC/LC (No code, Low code) deployment, which allows process owners and shop-floor personnel to develop their own applications and eliminates the need to have in-house and on-staff development teams.
- Many other benefits come up when SaaS is compared to homegrown on-premise applications. However, the biggest benefit is the ability to use an existing, tried-and-tested solution from the get-go rather than developing your own solution and going through an entire learning curve to develop something that, by the time in-house development is finished, might have improved further both functionally and technically.
Maximizing IT Efficiency- SaaS-based platforms directly impact operational margins and help manufacturers reduce the costs associated with full-fledged on-premise hosting, including the manpower cost required for developing, maintaining, and supporting such applications. These are the distinct advantages of SaaS platforms from an IT efficiency perspective:
- The flexible pay-by-the-use computing capacity of SaaS deployments allows manufacturers to reduce 20 to 40% of the cost associated with typical on-prem deployment.
- Another key benefit of SaaS deployment is that the application being deployed has been developed and scaled by experienced developers working with multiple similar production environments, which means the application is fully tested and quality assured before being rolled out to production.
- Legacy infrastructure, with its aging servers and unreliable firewalls, poses a threat to the very IP that on-premise applications are supposed to protect. SaaS-based deployment eliminates that risk entirely.
- SaaS applications can potentially eliminate 20-30% of the labor associated with maintaining an IT infrastructure.
- With cloud-based applications, deployment time is cut down to hours, if not minutes, whereas it might take many weeks for a traditional on-site deployment.
Minimizing IT Risks- Cloud has been a contentious discussion in manufacturing because of security and resilience concerns. However, due to modifications made to the technology stack, cloud is now one of the safest and most reliable hosting solutions:
- From a security standpoint, cloud delivers everything from directory services to authorization support and application-defined firewall to distributed denial of service prevention.
- There are specific configurations of cloud infrastructure that enable local data storage and edge capabilities for manufacturers who prefer to keep certain data sets on premise.
- When it comes to SaaS, security also depends on company policy and leadership. Everything from user rights to network security needs to be defined and communicated to relevant stakeholders for any deployment to be successful.
- Cloud applications are built for resilience. They provide data redundancy and ensure data is safe and recoverable at all times.
- Resilience also stems from flexibility, and SaaS models are incredibly flexible, allowing manufacturers to choose when, where, and how much to use an application or platform across their value chains.
Based on the insights from Accenture’s guide, it seems that going for a SaaS-based platform should be a no-brainer for manufacturers. However, specifically for FLW management and optimization, what should the ideal platform look like?
Connected-worker applications are a whole different ball game when it comes to deployment and user adoption. The SaaS platform is considered cloud agnostic, with on-prem virtualization delivery and native mobile services. It must allow app development and deployment to be driven by users on their own mobile devices, and it should intuitively adapt to the devices in use.
Webalo offers on-premise, cloud, and hybrid solutions. We believe centralization leads to better analysis, agility, and visibility. Therefore, we are heavily investing in the SaaS model for more accessibility and easy data aggregation. While every plant can run its own server, collect data from local workers, and then aggregate the data at region levels and the corporate level, our plan is to centralize all of the data within multi-tenant server structures for future deployments. This will provide already aggregated, structured data for faster and more accurate analysis. Machine learning will provide results sooner with broader exercised data.
The ultimate goal of Webalo’s SaaS offering is not only the elimination of IT infrastructure costs and improved bottom line for the manufacturer but also the frictionless transition from legacy or paper-based systems to the most modern FLW platform for the entire organization and extended supply chain.