Cloud-based Manufacturing • June 16, 2022

Cloud-based Manufacturing Operations Can Accelerate Your Digital Transformation

Manufacturers, particularly small to medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), are embracing the concept of digital transformation more than ever before.  Consulting companies, the media, analyst firms, software and technology providers, and even business-academic institutions like HBR and MIT Sloan are continually providing reasons manufacturers need to “go digital”.

Case studies provide benefit examples ranging from productivity gains (some significant) to business saving realignments that rescue a struggling SME.  Business leadership is inundated with suggestions on what to do to transform their business but many fail to make any significant gains.  Often it is because they are making a fatal flaw in their approach to digital transformation.  It may be thinking too big, too small, or simply tackling the wrong opportunity.  For SMEs that are part of a manufacturing value chain, one of the projects that offer the most impact when trying to transform your business is your operational technology. Notably, technologies applied to the execution of your manufacturing operations should be addressed.  Manufacturing Execution Systems (MES) can impact productivity, quality, on-time performance, safety and reliability, and even your ESG performance.

You may have considered upgrading your home-grown MES to kick-start your Digital Transformation.  But, for many SMEs, the fear of tackling a project they believe is “too large” like an MES modernization keeps manufacturers from taking the critical steps forward.

So, what are ways manufacturers can simplify the digital modernization of their operations?

Cloud Manufacturing Can De-Risk MES Projects

A properly architected Cloud-based MES has multiple attributes.  Here are four of the most critical:

  1. A modular, microservices architecture
  2. Multi-cloud capabilities
  3. Value-based licensing
  4. World-class functionalities

While intuitively it would seem functionality should be first on the list, for many enterprises leveraging that functionality will be a long journey and the first three recommendations are what will make that journey so much easier.

Microservices are essential to any modern Cloud-based solution.  MES solutions built using a modular, microservices architecture provide SMEs two critical benefits: the ability to implement functionality incrementally, and a  transparent ability to upgrade..  This means you can adopt MES capabilities when and where most needed without having to do big-bang projects.  It also means you can expect the MES software to evolve to meet regulatory requirements and market best practices.

Multi-cloud capabilities mean you won’t be tied to a specific platform.  As an SME you may normally consider Microsoft your platform of choice and want to use Azure.  However, if your customers are operating in a secure AWS environment, you may find that to be the way to deploy your MES capabilities as they relate to them.  Not being constrained to one platform gives you the flexibility to serve your customers in an environment that works for both of you.

Of course, the two options above are meaningless unless you can afford to make the move to the Cloud.  All major Cloud platforms offer usage-based pricing but not all MES vendors do.  You want a solution provider who recognizes that you may not need or be able to use every feature and function they offer and will let you subscribe based on what you need.  Think of the streaming model instead of a massive cable bill for dozens of channels you will never watch.  Your MES provider should allow you to license by users and the features they need.

Finally, microservice-based solutions are one of the best ways to ensure the vendor not only currently delivers world-class functionality but can continue to provide it in the future.  At the same time, if the vendor lacks a few world-class capabilities today, it should not be an impediment to engaging with them provided you are convinced their strategic vision matches your and the industry’s needs.  If they are based on a microservices architecture, they can introduce new capabilities in a seamless fashion so those capabilities will be ready when you need them.

The “Do Nothing” Option isn’t Free

Many SMEs, when faced with complex and costly options to move forward, do nothing to avoid failure.  The problem with that approach is that while there is no direct outlay, the opportunity costs are often what sink the business.  When a competitor can outprice you, deliver higher quality, deliver sooner or provide a more sustainable product than you, ultimately you will lose business.  Look to the Cloud to accelerate your ability to make the Digital Transformation moves that will make your business successful.

UK Digital Manufacturing Productivity Report