Manufacturing: A different type of industrial cloud

Not so long ago, computers were almost always in a business location – an accountant’s office, or something like that. But gradually, partly thanks to Apple iMac, the machines started making their way into homes in large numbers. 

But there are still categories of computers which don’t really belong in the home, or at least weren’t designed for domestic bliss. If you can comfortably fit a supercomputer or a mainframe into your house, that’s probably enough domestic bliss for you anyway.

For most of us, desktop computers – or increasingly laptop computers – are just about all the space we can share, and the largest manufacturers of such poor-man’s systems were recently listed by Gartner.

Worldwide computer shipments in second quarter of 2016

  1. Lenovo – 13.2 million units
  2. HP – 12.3 million units
  3. Dell – 10 million units
  4. Asus – 4.7 million units
  5. Apple – 4.6 million units
  6. Acer – 4.4 million units
  7. Others – 15.4 million units

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Source: Gartner

Typos of computers 

d-wave quantum computer

In an interesting article on DCJTech.info, a large number of classifications of computers are explained, and we list some of them below.

  • Microcomputers
  • Minicomputers
  • Carputers
  • Laptop computers
  • Smartphones
  • Tablet computers
  • Wearable computers
  • Industrial computers
  • Mainframes
  • Supercomputers
  • Programmable logic controllers
  • Programmable automation controllers
  • Gameframes
  • Nanocomputers
  • Quantum computers

For a fuller list, with explanations, we suggest a visit to the DJTech. For the purposes of this article, we’re mainly interested in industrial computers, desktop and mobile computers, as well as the cloud.

So old it’s new 

industrial computer

The manufacturing industry, being one of the oldest business sectors, is seen as slow on the uptake when it comes to new technology. But there are often good reasons.

Factories are often grimy and dangerous, and that’s no place for a delicate instrument such as a computer, with its internal cooling fans sending all that dusty air into its innards and clogging up its electronics and potentially setting fire to itself and eventually burning down the building.

No.

What’s required in such an environment is a specially made industrial computer, which often has heavier, industrial grade components, no cooling fans, and yet can withstand higher temperatures, and even damp or wet conditions.

Industrial computers are highly regulated and required to pass additional, appropriate technical standards, and they are built to last longer, but aren’t always more expensive than their house- and office-bound counterparts.

Many of the large robotics and automation companies also build industrial computers, but some which you may not have heard of include:

This is not a complete list of course, and one or two of the above may be more well known for other types of computers as well.

The first industrial computer is said to have been the IBM 7531, released in 1984. But now, in the age of Industry 4.0, a lot of the new speak is about the industrial cloud.

The first industrial cloud era 

ge digital predix

General Electric, one of the largest companies in the world in any sector, claims to have launched the first industrial cloud, called Predix, earlier this year.

In a statement at the time, Jeff Immelt, CEO of GE said: “Cloud computing has enabled incredible innovation across the consumer world. With Predix Cloud, GE is providing a new level of service and results across the industrial world.”

Another claim GE made at the time was that, as well being the first, Predix was the “only” industrial cloud. Now, however, more companies have entered the market.

Here’s a list of industrial cloud vendors, along with their relevant product or service:

Some of the above list are specialist industrial cloud providers with hardware-plus-software solutions aimed specifically at industrial companies, but some are all-purpose cloud services which have components of what is required – either hardware or software or both – but not in a ready-made package for industrial applications.

Most industrial cloud solutions are built by the client company itself with support from suppliers, which can be a tech company you may not readily associate with manufacturing.

General Electric, for example, is offering its Predix solution on the Microsoft Azure cloud platform; Fanuc developed its Field IoT system with Cisco and Preferred Networks; and ABB is another one who worked with Microsoft.

New methods for making things

siemens-industrial-cloud

The way things are made changes all the time. The transformation can seem quite slow, but that’s because things like upgrading machinery, refitting factories and other associated things take time.

Even without any refurbishment, the usual manufacturing process is complex and involving.

Enterprise resource planning software – known as ERP – is increasingly used in businesses of all types, and a variation of the solution has emerged in the industrial sector.

What could be called a variation, or a component, of ERP is something called a manufacturing execution system, or MES, a solution which can provide an overview of an entire industrial process.

Of the above list, Predix and MindSphere have some elements of MES applications, but some companies offer solutions which are described specifically as MES. They include:

The above list may not be exhaustive, but it provides a starting point if you’re on the market for such systems. But as with all the other solutions – hardware or software – mentioned in this article, there is a great deal of flexibility in almost all areas.

A diverse range of hardware and software can be integrated into one solution, or one integrated hardware-and-software solution from one vendor could be the way to go for you.

But whatever the choice, installing a giant supercomputer in your kitchen is probably not a good idea, no matter how big your house.

Close to home 

tailor

One of the key things about the new emerging industrial technologies, collectively called Industry 4.0 by some, is the level of internet connectivity.

All machines within a factory – including robots and robotic work cells – can be connected to each other. The factories themselves can be connected to other factories anywhere in the world.

Any of these facilities – now being called “smart factories” – could be accessible through your desktop computer or even your smartphone.

This means that transportation of pre-assembled manufactured products will probably decrease because anything can be made anywhere at any time, provided all the parts are available.

And at the end of day, the customer receives the product they want, customised to exactly their specifications.

It’s possible. And it’s happening now.