I can still remember the first time I was asked by my manager to record the number of parts that were machined during a shift. I hopped up from my desk, grabbed a clipboard and pen, then went to the floor. I proudly walked from machine to machine asking how many parts were made. I wrote the answer from each operator next to the machine number. Once back at my desk, I entered the numbers into a spreadsheet, printed it out, and put it on my manager’s desk.
As the years have gone by, so have many of the manufacturing processes. Even though the machines have changed to CNC machining centers, I still walked the same walk every shift change with my clipboard, entering the information into a spreadsheet. Eventually, I had email, making it possible to send the information to many people at the same time rather than printing copies and walking them to individuals. Technology advancements saved me from walking miles on miles just to ensure everyone had our performance indicators.
However, most of the data and documentation collected on the shop floor was collected manually. In today’s manufacturing world, we have real-time data that allows us to react and adjust more quickly, increasing productivity, utilization, and quality by leaps and bounds.
IoT (Internet of Things) has enabled us to place sensors in equipment, allowing us to get real-time data from thousands of machines and processes at once. This ushered in the fourth industrial revolution. Today, we have more data than ever, and it is expanding at lightning speeds, triggering big data analysis and processing. This usable information has improved our manufacturing operations beyond our wildest dreams. In addition, customers send orders by EDI (electronic data interchange) or other data systems. With computers and tablets able to withstand harsh work environments, they are no longer office-only tools—they are everywhere. The speed we need to process data has and will continuously change as new technologies like AI (artificial intelligence), machine learning, and quantum computing are making their way into manufacturing.
With all these changes, the data analyzed, requested, managed, manually coded, or manipulated by staff will become more difficult and complex. Is your current software and hardware up to these new tasks? If you're not sure if you can keep up, you may need to upgrade your systems. You should consider software as a service (SaaS) as an option. SaaS refers to a web-based software application that is delivered via the cloud. Using a SaaS system, you can access data via the Internet and pull it into your business systems in real time.
SaaS can provide you with the following benefits:
All data is stored in one place.
Easily access data from anywhere via the Internet.
Customization of software through your SaaS supplier/vendor.
Ease of scalability—as you grow, you can rent more space, processing power, and software upgrades (cost will increase).
Reduction of your on-site staffing needs.
On-site server needs can be reduced.
SaaS can be customized to your business.
Data security may be better than with on-site systems.
Before you sign up for SaaS, make sure you understand your current and future needs. If your company plans to stay small and not interact electronically with others or collect large amounts of data, you might not be a candidate for SaaS. In those situations, you might not need the cloud's computing and storage power. If you envision your company growing and adding new technologies like sensors or AI, SaaS might be the right choice.
When considering SaaS vendors, ask about cost, scalability to your needs, software management, and upgrades. Also ask about data ownership and security, as well as how you will access your data if the SaaS vendor goes out of business.
As your business evolves, you upgrade your shop floor equipment to ensure you have the technology to meet customers' growing needs and demands. Have you been doing the same with your software?