It’s no mystery why organizations are moving to cloud-based ERP software solutions. Running your business processes and storing your data in the cloud—rather than in a monolithic on-premise solution—can give you greater accuracy by letting all your decision-makers work off the same set of data. It can enable you to access test data, report calibration data, and operator information so you can trace products from raw materials all the way to the end-customer experience.
But those are just the benefits that organizations typically expect to achieve from cloud-based ERP. Have you heard about the under-the-radar benefits? These are not just “nice to have” advantages—we’re talking about significant enhancements that help organizations lower costs and improve the quality of their end products. Let’s take a look.
#1: Smarter Buildings
As the typical computing network expands to include more and more elements of production, manufacturers can leverage this connectivity to improve many aspects of their operations. Today’s building management systems can already perform money-saving tasks such as automatically turning lights and HVAC on and off. By integrating these operations into the plant’s network, building management systems can connect them to the cloud ERP system. From there, the plant’s decision-makers can make smarter, more informed decisions about power usage.
Think of the difference these capabilities could make in a typical plant’s bottom line. Power and HVAC represent a major cost of operations and a significant source of potential savings. Based on the information in their cloud ERP systems, executives can begin to manage power as a line item in the budget and run their operations in a way that takes advantage of off-peak energy costs for thousands or perhaps millions of dollars in annual savings.
#2: Greater Safety
Want to improve overall safety within your plant? Try connecting your employees to the ever-expanding Internet of Things.
You could start by aiming to improve forklift safety. According to Compliance and Safety, one out of every six workplace deaths is related to forklifts, and 80 percent of forklift accidents involve pedestrians. Many manufacturers require their employees to wear orange safety vests to make them visible to forklift drivers.
What about using the Internet of Things to take forklift safety one step further? It would be easy to embed orange vests with a Bluetooth device and give all forklift drivers a wearable device such as smart glasses so that they can see information about who’s working nearby. Plants could also use consumer-style lane divergence seat shakers to prevent accidents.
Where does cloud ERP come into this picture? On the analytical side of things. After equipping their workforce with wearables that increase safety, plant management could view up-to-the-minute data on accidents and near misses. They would also be able to monitor factors such as the speed at which forklifts and other machines are being driven. From there, it would be easy to take corrective action towards employees who are causing the most serious safety issues. Wearables can also help management gather data about how workers are spending their time on the shop floor and what safety hazards they’re exposed to on a daily basis.
#3: Greater Efficiency
For more than 100 years, the torque wrench has been an essential tool for manufacturers because it applies specific torque to a fastener, such as a nut or bolt. By connecting a torque wrench to the cloud, manufacturers can dramatically expand its capabilities. For example, in the assembly of a complex part, the sensors on the part will flow up to the cloud. The cloud will then identify the specifications for the part and instruct the wrench to automatically apply the correct level of torque.
Even on a dynamic production line, plants can use these capabilities to essentially eliminate mistakes—especially operator error. Best of all, the data flows in both directions. The cloud automatically captures the torque applied to a given part, the specific wrench that was used, when that wrench was last calibrated, and the ID of the employee who used it. If a company later learns that the wrench was faulty in some way, the cloud can quickly identify every part affected.
Moving Towards a Connected Future
Networksconnecting all aspects of production enable manufacturers to see and act on live data and shop floor transactions that incorporate people, machines, and materials. Programmable logic controllers (PLCs) have historically offered communications capabilities on the shop floor, but such communications were limited to the operator in front of the machine or participants in the plant’s private network.
When PLCs are connected to the cloud, however, machines can talk to information systems and provide access to real-time operational data through any browser or mobile device, anywhere in the world. This is just one example of how the Internet of Things marries communications to information systems to provide rich context in real-time, keeping everyone informed—from shop foremen to customers.
Research shows that approximately 50 percent of manufacturing cloud transactions are already machine-to-machine, which means that anything from an IP torque wrench to a barcode scanner is exchanging data with the system of record. Virtually every component of the modern shop floor can be connected to an IP fabric. According to the recent State of Manufacturing Technology Report, nearly 66 percent of manufacturers that have taken advantage of these capabilities are already seeing improvements in plant productivity. Proving that a connected shop floor is a successful shop floor.