Manufacturers are Ready to Make a Major Move to the Cloud

Alex Irwin, Go West RoboticsAlex Irwin

COVID has caused many manufacturers to re-think how they can improve their operations with remote monitoring and management. In fact, a recent survey of manufacturing COOs revealed that 59% of those surveyed reported that moving to the cloud was a priority for their company over the next six months.

Manufacturing with the cloud
Moving to the Cloud with Go West
Manufacturing with the cloud
Moving to the Cloud with Go West

New Opportunities for Robotic Integrators

This is a major shift for many manufacturers who have long had concerns about moving their operations and data to the cloud. It represents a significant opportunity for robotics integrators who are poised to help.

As the resistance to cloud-supported manufacturing begins to fade, many robotic integrators will need to quickly adopt new ways of thinking about how to assist customers. Cloud usage depends on industry specific needs and can be deployed in a variety of interesting ways. For example, for fabrication and tooling manufacturers (where there has historically been significant on-site human support for robotic automation), COVID-restrictions may be cutting shifts and man-power. Now may be a great time to deploy multiple robots from the cloud, or add cloud based-monitoring to increase quality and output.

Streaming robot performance data to the cloud allows for centralized reporting and custom control systems. Go West Robotics has worked with several integrators to build open-source management systems and HMIs. Our systems use custom libraries to communicate directly with robot controllers and in some instances, even removing the need for PLCs altogether. Go West’s systems passively collect performance data out of the box, enabling our customers to apply business intelligence and performance analysis. This data is presented in an online dashboard which enables operations managers to monitor the system in real-time, while integrators can be alerted of customer issues before the phone rings. Because it is cloud-based, it can be viewed from anywhere, allowing supervisors to work remotely and monitor multiple locations at once. The best part? There are no ongoing licensing fees, so manufacturers get a better product with lower overall implementation cost.

Do you have clients still walking around collecting robot data using a USB stick to calculate OEE? Integrators with cloud skills can build systems allowing clients to download robot data with the click of a button, or view OEE on demand.

Once integrators help manufacturers stream data to the cloud, new business opportunities become available. For example, integrators can consolidate all data in a single cloud repository, where machine learning can identify maintenance issues or operating bottlenecks before they impact operations. Data silos and inflexible systems become a thing of the past. By providing valuable services like remote data storage, real-time monitoring and preventative maintenance forecasting, integrators can also create monthly recurring revenue with subscription-based services.

New Opportunities to Improve Integrator Operations

Manufacturers are not the only ones who can benefit from the cloud to support day-to-day operations. Integrators can use cloud processing to allow their development teams to work remotely. Common development environments offered by many robot and PLC manufacturers can run in the cloud to control licensing costs and share workstations. In addition, when it comes time to compile and build complex systems, cloud-based instances can be easily upgraded to reduce build times by a factor of ten, and then quickly scaled back down. Cloud-based workstations can also be terminated when they aren’t in use, so you only pay for what you need.

The most important thing integrators can do right now is to talk to their clients about a cloud strategy.

What Should Integrators Be Doing Now?

The most important thing integrators can do right now is to talk to their clients about a cloud strategy. Is cloud technology a part of their strategic plan? If so, discuss how you can help. If not, emphasize the importance of maintaining market share, as competitors are quickly leveraging the advantages of the cloud.

We often have conversations with integrators who don’t have cloud skills as part of their engineering teams. Fortunately, not having cloud or IoT skills in-house isn't a deal-breaker. These skills can be developed over time or supplemented by delivery partners. In the short-term, the following steps will help you get started.

  • Talk to your customers and identify their problems. Discuss how cloud-based services can help them. Listen to their concerns about cloud adoption. Determine what is driving their decision process -- hopes (reduced operating costs or increased productivity) or fears (unexpected downtime).
  • Based on your client conversations, develop a set of services and/or products that can help address their needs. Some options could include moving robot monitoring to the cloud to support resilience operations, providing cloud-based OEE reporting to gain better insights into performance, or offering remote support services to decrease downtime.
  • Choose a single cloud-provider (e.g, Amazon Web Services or Microsoft Azure) and familiarize yourself with their product offering. Pick a single person on your engineering team and give them responsibility for identifying the services you want to use for that provider.
  • Identify the skills you will need to execute your strategy. Determine which skills you will hire for and which should come from a service delivery partner.
  • Find a partner with the cloud and software development skills you need and work with them to build a services and product “roadmap” that will suit your client portfolio.

Not sure where to start? Want to know what other integrators are doing? Send us a note and let us know how we can help. We’d love to chat.

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