Most of us have seen or used the “cloud” at some point but likely it’s been for storing pictures of the kids or backing up data from your office computer. While certainly there’s value in having important documents stored safely and available anywhere, the future holds many more uses for cloud technology in manufacturing. As more and more equipment is becoming smart technology with integrated system monitoring, sensors and usage tracking, all of this information is being gathered in the cloud and if applied properly, could save business owners time and money in the future. Seeing all of the data in one place would allow business owners to know instantly which machines in their shop are being used, which are down for maintenance, the percentage of utilization for each machine, what production is coming from various shifts, whether efficiency of a piece of machinery has declined with wear and of course hundreds of other useful pieces of information.
An interesting new facet of cloud computing is wearable technology which looks to be a promising wave of the future. For example special glasses can be worn to provide training to new employees, provide real time data to shop workers, and increase workplace safety. Imagine if the employee on the shop floor had immediate access via wearable technology to current inventory. How much faster could they get a new job on a machine if they were told exactly where the material they needed was located and how much was on hand or if a remnant was available that would work for their next job. Or think of the scenario where the forklift driver can’t see someone in their blind spot but the sensor in their glasses goes off to warn them that someone is there. Many shops have been unable to adopt bar code scanners and readers because of the high cost of entry barrier, but wearable technology will likely make that problem a relic of the past. These ideas are just the tip of the iceberg for the future of this type of technology.
If all of this data was then integrated with a cloud based ERP system the benefits increase further. Being able to track purchase orders, sales orders, and inventory as well as track scheduling and capacity all in real time would greatly improve overall shop performance and reduce costs. Every shop owner wants to know where their weak points are – which machines fail frequently or have high costs for replacement parts, or which machines are simply underutilized – because at the end of the day it’s all about finding ways to trim the fat to cut costs and increase revenue. Finally if all of this carefully collected data were then viewed from a mobile device it becomes even more accessible. Many companies are integrating tablets, phones, and other mobile devices into their shops. The Aberdeen Group found that companies that have integrated some type of mobile software into their operations have seen a 44% increase in efficiency. More and more it seems growth is going to be at a more nominal pace which means every dollar will count and every inefficiency will be magnified, making it critical for forward thinking business owners to find ways to take full advantage of every technology platform.