Why is Cloud Computing the Next Step for Industrial Automation
Over the past two decades, automation has improved the performance, quality and productivity of manufacturing and process systems. Traditionally, the manufacturing industry has been slow to embrace new technological platforms, but in recent years, the introduction and success of cloud computing have meant this technology is becoming vital for manufacturers.
One of the most notable changes in the industry over the past years has come from advancements in remote connectivity. Software architectures and tools created in previous decades no longer fit the new cloud infrastructure. For example, with plant production monitoring, the ability to share development of application software with a distributed team from many locations was previously possible only in very few systems. Now distributed access and versioning should be built-in, and as easy to setup as accessing remote email.
For demanding environments, such as the offshore oil and gas sector, remote access is particularly valuable. The industry handles large amounts of data, usually sourced from multiple teams in remote locations. Cloud computing enables the communication of complex data between these locations and back to the main office to be analyzed.
Furthermore, cloud computing allows manufacturers to manage their partners too. By working closely together and sharing business data with third party suppliers, logistics partners and other associates or manufacturers can form what is known as a “community cloud”. This advanced form of cloud computing allows businesses to gain insight to their entire supply chain and creates a secure platform for business partners to coordinate their activities.
How will the introduction of cloud computing impact the development process?
With cloud computing, the development process stays the same, but the architecture changes. With designers moving from creating separate products to providing essential services to the bigger system, there are several key considerations, including:
- Data is no longer strictly local anymore, and the quality of this data will impact the whole process
- Data needs to be available beyond static tag mapping
- Data needs to be secure to avoid disruption through corruption
- Services need to scale from discrete devices to intelligent systems that allow workload consolidation
- Depending on the criticality of the process, safety impacted by security has to be a priority
At the same time, automation suppliers can simplify the integration of cloud services into their products and systems by:
- eliminating complex and proprietary architectures
- using open communication standards
- thinking regarding services and not separate products
- making sure that systems architecture properly scales into the cloud
Finally, we also have to consider the risks. Cyber security threats are not necessarily the work of malicious hackers, but can often be simple mistakes made by employees, such as connecting via unsecured networks, exposing the system to viruses or accidental breaches. Moving from the isolated embedded world and connecting into an enterprise or potentially the cloud is highly disruptive, and it can have a significant impact on businesses. All the rules change once this level of connectivity exists, but it also brings incredible opportunities for everyone.
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