Click image to enlargeby Mary Scianna

Cloud computing has the potential to transform the manufacturing landscape in a way few could have imagined decades ago.

At the click of an icon, you can download manufacturing software upgrades from suppliers and CAD/CAM programs from customers, troubleshoot machining and tooling problems by accessing diagnostic machining and cutting strategies, store a readily accessible history of manufacturing part parameters and remotely control (or allow remote access to others) your manufacturing operation (or operations) from another location.

In essence, cloud computing is a new competitive tool that puts process knowledge into manufacturers' hands to help them improve manufacturing operations and efficiencies.

Cloud computing is not new. Indeed, anyone who has uploaded and shared photographs or documents online, or used Google or Yahoo for email service is essentially using cloud computing, defined as the use of "a network of remote servers hosted on the Internet to store, manage and process data rather than on a local server."

What is new is the growing prevalence of cloud computing services for manufacturing operations management [MOM]. Cloud computing was in evidence at EMO 2013 in Hannover, Germany, amongst exhibitor launches, such as Kennametal's new NOVO digital tools, described as "process knowledge delivered via the machining cloud," and Seco's MyPages, a digital service platform that serves as a global information exchange between customers and cutting tool experts.

Cloud manufacturing is simply a smarter way to harness information to improve your manufacturing processes. Yet North American manufacturers have been hesitant to embrace the cloud, according to US firm LNS Research. The biggest concern is cloud computing's dependency on Internet connectivity: if your Internet goes down, so does your access to important data and manufacturing software. Another concern is the safety of Intellectual Property (IP) that may sit on a public cloud.

Despite the concerns, LNS says "advancements in cloud technology and end user attitudes have now shifted to a point where adoption rates of MOM cloud technologies are poised to increase significantly."

Indeed, in its manufacturing operations management survey, LNS found only seven per cent of respondents leverage cloud technology, but 17 per cent said they plan to use cloud/SaaS (Software as a Service) based solutions in the future.

Manufacturers face constant competitive pressures to offer better service, higher quality and faster delivery at a lower price. One way to achieve this is through cloud computing. It's worth investigating to see if it fits your manufacturing needs. SMT

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