Manufacturing Ramps Up in the Cloud

Packaged goods companies are constantly being driven to offer higher levels of variety in consumer products. The goal for manufacturers and the machinery builders serving these industries is how they can adapt to move past today's batch processes to ultimately work toward achieving a batch size of one.

According to Rush LaSelle, vice president and general manager for Adept Technology , MobileRobots, cloud manufacturing technologies will continue to emerge and serve as the interface for the pacing items that can be key enablers in making this happen: process control and information from the consumer.

"With the unprecedented speed of digital connections between people and the commercial world through social networks and alike, this valuable information can now be made more quickly/easily available to manufacturers through the cloud. Cloud manufacturing represents the convergence of information, learned processes, and intelligent motion or activity," LaSelle told Design News.

His definition for cloud manufacturing is that it serves as a model for enabling convenient, on-demand network access to a shared pool of configurable manufacturing resources (including robotics, control systems, networks, applications, and services) permitting the comparison of digital process control with physical operation. The networking of sensory input, databases, and computing resources facilitates the management of sufficient data to recognize complex patterns and execute algorithms to evolve behaviors. Reconciliation of environmental conditions and information available in the cloud permits mechatronics to serve as the conduit between the digital and physical world.

LaSelle said key factors in the emergence of cloud computing relate to dynamic process control and the need for a reduction in programming to deliver incrementally better levels of customization for production and packaging. One of the greatest barriers to deployment and the largest complaint from users of industrial robots is the programming. He said many customers have asked why they must become proficient in dedicated languages to accomplish moderately straightforward tasks using robots or mechatronics as a whole. The cloud offers solutions to these challenges today and offers even greater promise for the future.

Manufacturers have used networks in the manner defined by cloud computing where programs are stored remotely and shared across networks. But machines are just beginning to gain the ability to search for these blocks and with certain conditions implement them to affect their activities dynamically.

Ecosystem drivers

"The concept of cloud manufacturing is not solely driven by the demand for ever-increasing levels of flexibility and efficiency in deploying automated systems," LaSelle told us. "Factory automation and robotics must begin to view themselves not as industrial islands, but as devices within an information ecosystem."

As manufacturing begins participating in the information revolution, machinery and automation will generate and consume greater amounts of data to where they can offer higher levels of quality through dynamic process control, provide the flexibility to satisfy an insatiable consumer appetite for mass customization, and ultimately decrease costs of implementation through learned heuristics. Unlike the productivity gains of the Henry Ford era, today's gains will be driven though better utilizing processing information technologies.

"It can be expected that over the coming years manufacturing will more fully capitalize

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