Manufacturing More Happily Meets ‘the Cloud’

Even though I had picked up signs of skepticism about cloud computing from end users, the conversations at the ARC World Industry Forum implied that moving to the cloud is no longer controversial.

Aw 15178 G Mitchell Blue

Enterprise Information Technology (IT) professionals and suppliers always question why I’m interviewing them about using the cloud as part of their IT strategy. As far as they are concerned, it is a “done deal.” Manufacturing IT professionals, manufacturing managers and automation engineers remain skeptical, however, about the security and robustness of storing data in the cloud.

The funny thing is, the cloud has become part of our everyday life; from online banking through enterprise resource planning applications, everyone is probably using some form of cloud-based system—even those skeptics. We are discovering many applications where IT and engineering are finding the cloud useful for sharing data among geographically dispersed users.

I moderated a webcast on January 31 (www.automationworld.com/cloud-manufacturing-path-success) that is still viewable online. In it, an end user described the system he developed and implemented using cloud storage and a variety of devices to keep managers abreast of the latest production status and enable better, faster decisions.

Rick Moulton, the supervisor for plant systems and automation with Construction Resources Management Inc. (www.jobscrm.com) of Waukesha, Wis. was the third featured speaker. He is in charge of the process control systems and IT systems for all of the asphalt plants owned and operated by Northeast Asphalt, Inc. (www.neasphalt.com) and Payne and Dolan, Inc. (www.payneanddolan.com).

If you have not yet listened to the webcast, I highly recommend it. Rick is an articulate speaker and his message of getting information out to a diverse group of people in the many locations of his company using cloud technologies brings the concept to life. The cloud does not have to be a scary place. It is a useful tool for manufacturers.

Making progress
I just returned from the 17th Annual ARC World Industry Forum in Orlando, Fla. sponsored by the ARC Advisory Group. There were many conversations about the cloud in sessions, in private meetings and in hallway conversations.

Even though I had picked up signs of skepticism about the cloud from end users, the conversations at ARC implied that moving to the cloud is no longer controversial. Many people referred to Amazon S3 (a Web-hosted cloud service of Amazon.com) quite matter-of-factly.

Another conversation with Chris Brighouse, product manager with EMC (www.emc.com), a documentation solutions provider, involved the ways that EMC has enabled collaboration among the various parts of a manufacturing enterprise using the cloud. In fact, the EMC Documentum Engineering, Plant and Facilities Management (EPFM) OnDemand solution can greatly assist hand over from the EPC firm to the owner/operator by placing the P&ID, equipment list and other engineering documentation in the cloud to be readily accessed by operations and maintenance at startup.

Innovation dead?
Also at ARC, Invensys Operations Management hosted a lunch with CEO Mike Caliel with opportunity for an informal question-and-answer session. One analyst present stated that there had not been any innovation in the industrial automation space for some time and that “innovation must be done.”

During a private meeting later in the week, Caliel asked what I thought about that remark. “Good God, no,” was my response. Instrumentation keeps getting smarter offering enhanced diagnostics; wireless sensor networks have yielded more plant information; the cloud along with mobility, better analytics and better visualization have improved decision-making. No, innovation remains alive and well in our market.

>> Gary Mintchell, gmintchell@automationworld.com, is Founding Editor of Automation World.

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