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    Graham Immerman
    Graham Immerman MachineMetrics / December 10, 2019

    Finding the Right Cloud Solution for Manufacturers

    As more and more manufacturers begin digital transformations to take advantage of emerging technologies within Industry 4.0, choosing the right cloud-based solution is critical.  Not only is each product category unique within its given industry segment, each manufacturing company within that segment has specific needs and each begins from a different starting point on the digital transformation roadmap.

    Adding to the confusion is the type of cloud-based solution companies have available to them.  While they each have their own strengths and weaknesses, they are not interchangeable and should be understood for what they can offer in a digital transformation.  These cloud-based solutions are Software as a Service (SaaS), Platform as a Service (PaaS), and Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS).

    Software as a Service (SaaS)

    Software as a Service (SaaS) is cloud-based distribution model for software only.  A third-party provider offers a company’s end users access to a single copy of its software that can be used to manage business functions within that company.  While tiers of access and “pay-as-you-go” subscriptions allow de facto customization for end users, the source code is the same for all users.  SaaS systems are managed from a central location and hosted on a remote server.  They do not require hardware at the user end and many SaaS systems allow API integration to further enhance its utility.

    Advantages of SaaS include:

    • Quick deployment to end users
    • Significantly fewer capital outlays for infrastructure builds
    • Ongoing and seamless access to updates by the third-party provider
    • “Pay-as-you-go” models allow users to only pay for the functionality needed.
    • Accessible via internet portal

    An example of SaaS would be Salesforce, which looks the same from customer to customer and whose entire utility and value is realized within the confines and use of the software itself.  While “plug-ins” and other applications have been developed for use within the Salesforce SaaS ecosystem, the source code remains the same and the system and its functionality are accessed only through the web portal.

    Platform as a Service (PaaS)

    Many companies have more sophisticated needs that require development of business applications unique to their business.  They may also have need, especially in the case of manufacturing, to connect disparate types of equipment and hardware to monitor functionality and performance.  This can be a key advantage when a company needs to streamline workflows or provide customized applications at the floor or machine level.

    PaaS is more complex than SaaS in that there are more components to the platform than the single copy software.  First, the software stack of a PaaS provides features such as virtual machine language, language interpreters, databases, application framework and other functionality that allows for the building of customized applications.  This is a more complex system of software compared to that available in SaaS.

    Second, PaaS may require the deployment of equipment or machinery that allows the stack to reside in the area needed for the application, such as a machine or piece of equipment on a shop floor.  This may take the form of sensors, monitors or other equipment in the case of manufacturing. Or, it could be a device that reconciles data coming from different factory OEM equipment. And in the case of manufacturing equipment where the OEM has embedded data collection software, it can be the machine itself.  PaaS takes the software stack functionality to the equipment that needs it and provides a channel back to the cloud where the data is aggregated and analyzed.

    Finally, PaaS allows multiple iterations of how the data is accessed, consumed and annotated.  A platform may use both GUI and CGI components depending on the level of action required. The ability to customize the HMI allows the platform to run as an integrated whole within the factory where different users, operators, technicians and managers may have different requirements for visualization.

    Advantages of a PaaS include:

    • Rapid application builds compared to traditional in-house.
    • Cost effective development
    • Broad variety of device platforms including screens, monitors, mobile and tablet applications
    • Cost effective compared to traditional in-house IT

    An example of PaaS would be the deployment by Fastenal of MachineMetrics Production platform.  Fastenal began by deploying machine monitoring to Swiss machines to improve response time and monitoring.  Programming to the sensors and devices could be customized in as little as 15 minutes. And the data, equipment uptime and current operating conditions were displayed throughout the shop floor.  

    By leveraging the insights provided by MachineMetrics’ PaaS, Fastenal was able to improve uptime, increase OEE and access data within minutes, altering their decision-making on day to day operations and production.  This is only possible with the benefits of a PaaS which integrates software, advanced analytics, sensors, edge devices and other hardware into a cohesive and comprehensive system.

    Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS)

    Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) is a cloud-based platform where the third-party provider offers all IT infrastructure.  A company using IaaS can access virtualized computing resources via the internet. The provider allows a company to access hardware, storage, servers, space and network components.  For many companies, the cost, training and maintenance required for traditional IT staff and the number of servers and space required to do business has become cost prohibitive. By offloading infrastructure to a provider, companies can save money and focus on core business goals such as customer acquisition and production.

    IaaS platforms are also highly scalable up or down, a factor that may come into play for companies whose production is highly volatile or who are in new markets where scaling requirements can change quickly. By providing a complete solution, a company can focus on growth and allocate capital and labor dollars to production-oriented jobs.

    Advantages of IaaS include:
    • Scalability
    • Flexibility
    • A focus on business growth
    • Consumption based cost

    An example of IaaS would be Amazon Web Services.  With AWS, users can pay for the servers, storage and access that they need and can scale as needed.  The cost of in-house maintenance of traditional IT infrastructure is significantly reduced and users have complete control over the system so that in-house developers can structure it to meet the business’ needs.

    Best System for Manufacturing

    But which cloud-based system works for best for manufacturing?  Each of these cloud-based solutions have their strong points. But given the nature of manufacturing and the amount of equipment within a factory that must be fit for data capture, a PaaS is a better solution by comparison.  There are several reasons for this:

    1. Connection to Different Types of Machines 

    In a manufacturing environment, equipment made by a variety of OEMs is connected across the factory.  Given that machines, interfaces, operator stations, monitors and other equipment may require using the entire software stack to create the correct ecosystem for the production floor.  And since PaaS is designed for customized applications, SaaS would be too limiting. This also goes for IaaS as key components of the system cannot reside outside the factory and in the third-party vendor’s control, they must be attached to the machine and connected there.

    2. Devices Must be Local Within the Factory 

    Another reason PaaS is a better solution is that the platform is not just managing electronic data such as an e-commerce business or a supply chain trail.  Manufacturing requires monitoring of machines that produce a physical product. So, physical connection of sensors, edge devices, cellular connections and software interpreters require connection to equipment on a wide range of devices such as belts, pulleys, gears, wheels and others.  

    Also, the physical condition of equipment is constantly changing due to wear or because of throughput from different products.  The source code may need to be changed and custom applications designed to make the platform viable across the factory, something not possible with the singular software of SaaS and not practical with IaaS as the devices must be local.

    3. Enterprise Connectivity

    With open APIs, PaaS systems can connect to other enterprise software to allow them to work in conjunction with the PaaS.  The standardized data made available through the PaaS un-silos the data and advanced analytics and machine learning algorithms allow the entire platform to work together, automating the factory floor and improving workflows to optimize machine operation and improving OEE across the factory.

    A PaaS system, such as MachineMetrics Production, addresses all these concerns, empowering the advanced analytics of the software through edge connectivity and a robust cloud data infrastructure.  Cost-effective edge devices allow both new equipment and legacy equipment to work together by making ethernet, Wi-Fi and cellular available to bring all equipment into the cloud data infrastructure.  This combination of digital and analog monitoring to capture data ensures that all equipment within a facility can supply data to the cloud, improving the accuracy of machine learning algorithms and the overall effectiveness of the platform.

    The MachineMetrics platform allows devices to connect directly to the PLCs on production equipment and use natural language programming.  These devices can then be managed through web interfaces to give flexibility throughout the operation at point of need. The merging of software, hardware and analytics allows manufacturing operations to be fully connected, visualized at the appropriate point of need in custom designed dashboards and interfaces and brings the power of the cloud-based analytics engine directly to the spot where needed.

    The Cloud is the Future

    As more and more companies begin to move their business to the cloud, each will need to decide what model works best for them.  For manufacturers, the added requirement of hardware on site for connectivity defines the type of system they will use. Recent studies indicate that SaaS accounts for around 24% of all enterprise workloads while IaaS accounts for 12%.  But as a solution for complex environments where local hardware and custom application development within the factory are required, PaaS systems show greater flexibly, accounting for 32% of all workloads and that is expected to grow.

    Learn more about MachineMetrics with a live demo.  


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