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The cloud – why should I care?!

Author: Avayu
Date: 13 February 2023

As we get stuck into the new year, we have no doubt made some resolutions about what 2023 holds for our business. According to a recent survey by The Engineer the topics of digitalisation, automation and servitization occupy three of the top five spots. With this in mind, and STC’s expanded partnership with AWS, I’ve put together a series of articles on the topic of The Cloud.

In this first article I’m going to touch on what we mean when we talk about the cloud, and why you might want to consider it by going through some examples and case studies. Throughout this series, we’re going to have a few fictitious companies, and try to relate some of the topics to more tangible examples. Without further ado, let me introduce you to:

  • Jigsaw – Jigsaw is a small-series manufacturer of high-performance metallic and composite parts. They have a manufacturing facility with a few CNC machines, and a small but highly skilled workforce with decades of experience.
  • Crafty – Crafty is a workshop that specialises in design and manufacturing of one-off prototypes. They have a small workshop containing some 3D printers, a connected design office, and have a network of associates and partners they rely on.
  • ThinkTek – ThinkTek is a design consultancy and engineering services company. They are usually dealing with several projects at once, and have to rapidly learn new topics ranging from injection moulding to thermal modelling.

(Disclaimer: any resemblance to any company, past or present, is purely coincidental!)

What is the cloud?

First and foremost, what do we mean when we talk about the cloud? The cloud is a synonym for outsourcing IT capabilities through a managed service provider (MSP). This can be through global networks of data centres owned and operated by household names such as Amazon, Microsoft and Google, or smaller, local independents and cooperatives. By IT capabilities we cover a wide spectrum: servers and virtual computers; data storage, archival and backups; software development lifecycle tools; and hundreds of other activities including databases, internet of things (IoT), artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning (ML) and more. In a follow-up article, we’ll dive a bit deeper into some of the service offerings.

You might reasonably ask why would I want to outsource our IT capabilities when Jenny’s been handling things just fine for 20 years, thank you very much. In the next section, we’ll touch on what sort of things can be accomplished, and why you might consider the cloud.

Why would I use this then?!

Alright, let’s see what some of the big names are doing. Volkswagen is aiming for a 30% increase in productivity through their “Industrial Cloud”. They aim to achieve this, in part, by integrating data from several hundred thousand machines in order to improve predictive maintenance. They are also looking at retrofitting sensors onto older machines, unlocking the benefits without having to make large capital investments (Jigsaw, I’m looking at you).

You don’t have to look far to see the benefits of improved connectivity that the cloud can provide. Online “manufacturers on demand”, and the market places they host, such as Xometry and Protolabs are a great example of this. These flexible manufacturing options can get Crafty through a project when their usual supplier is unavailable. On the other side, small manufacturing companies like Jigsaw can benefit from the network effect and adjust their pricing dynamically to ensure they are always operating at capacity.

Connectivity can also be a boon for internal operations, especially when looking at CAD, PLM and associated software. Tools such as Teamcenter X Cloud ensure Crafty can provide their team with secure access and sharing of CAD files between the design office and the shop floor and removes IT headaches from managing their own intranet. Fusion 360 offers a variety of modules and simulation capabilities, with pay-as-you-go pricing options, that mean ThinkTek have the ability to say yes to projects without worrying about expensive per-seat software licences.

Finally, I’d like to close with a shining example of what can be achieved by using the cloud to empower employees to deliver “bottom-up” business improvements. Rolls-Royce embraced Microsoft’s Power Platform which enabled employee-driven innovation and efficiency improvements, driving £8 million in financial benefit in a matter of months. Using Power Platform, staff can create internal software apps in a “low-code” environment and automate organisational processes.

These examples are but a tiny fraction of what’s possible with the cloud-based software solutions which are available to manufacturing and technology companies. I hope it’s got you thinking about where it might work in your own company.

I want to know more!

Of course you do! This is just the first article in the series, and in future articles I’ll cover topics such as security and the cost of the cloud. In the meantime, if you’d like to know more and want to geek out on anything cloud-related, I’ll be at the AWS Smart Factory event on the 22nd February and would love to chat over a coffee.

Abeed Visram, PhD
+44 (0)7395 177 263

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