Cloud technology is a critical enabler of the next Industrial Revolution. As Industry 4.0 gathers steam thanks to developments in the Internet of Things (IoT), automation and robotics, things could quickly grind to a halt without the cloud to effectively free these technologies from the connectivity restraints of on-site servers.

By embracing the cloud, your processes will operate more efficiently and your business will rise above the competition.  Why? Well, with any cloud deployment, you can hire the software and resources you need on a monthly basis and scale appropriately. You don’t need to hire in an IT team to maintain your hardware. And you will be rewarded with a highly reliable service where you don’t have to worry about downtime.

But the advantages of today’s cloud technology go beyond reliability, scalability and storage (and the associated cost savings) within Industry 4.0.

Cloud computing provides businesses with a solid foundation to develop a range of technologies, allowing you to innovate and leapfrog over the competition. Research from the Harvard Business Review Analytic Services reveals that 74% of businesses believe cloud computing has given them a competitive advantage. Further research reveals that 60% of technology decision-makers believe an integrated cloud approach will unlock the potential of disruptive technologies.

A spokesperson from Deutsche Telekom explained how Industry 4.0 contains a broad technological spectrum, including data analytics, the IoT, machine-to-machine communication and artificial intelligence.

Digitization and IoT at Deutsche Telekom


 “All this can be integrated into or connected to the cloud so that it can be used without limitations, across different business units or even across company boundaries. These increasingly important technologies can be obtained cost-effectively from the cloud in the future. In this respect, the cloud is an important digital component and thus the basis for Industry 4.0.”

Cloud computing is also bringing innovative technical solutions onto the factory floor for Lanner, who provide predictive digital twins for businesses who are looking to model, analyse and control their business processes. Lanner’s head of marketing, Graeme Routledge, explained:

“Cloud computing is offering many opportunities for Lanner to increase the performance, reach and use of our technology. Traditionally a technology confined to modellers and analysts, predictive digital twins and their simulation capabilities can now be put directly in the hands of those making business decisions, where they can get access to insights via any device at any time. This has meant that predictive simulation is now used for operational resource planning and scheduling in addition to wider strategic business planning, investment and policy decisions.”

On the edge

To effectively connect so many disparate technologies, a form of cloud computing, known as edge computing, will be a crucial component for the development of Industry 4.0, according to Deutsche Telekom:

“This [edge computing] means that IT is decentralising, moving closer to machines and production processes, which significantly reduces latency times. ”

 Industry 4.0 Insights, Scott Mordue, INTEL

Edge computing takes many forms but it is broadly defined as pushing applications, data, and IT services away from centralised nodes to the logical extremes of a network. This allows for real-time analysis and automated solutions across the supply chain in real time.

There are many different ways to use edge computing in an industrial setting. For example, vision sensors on the production line could act as edge devices to find defects smaller than the eye can see while a car is being sprayed on the production line. These sensors not only ingest information on the quality of the spray, but also have the capability to analyse how to resolve any defects and carry out preemptive maintenance work.

As the volume and velocity of data increases, edge computing provides a highly efficient solution because you don’t need to stream all of this information to the cloud for processing. Approximately 10% of enterprise-generated data is now created and processed outside a traditional centralised data centre or cloud network, and Gartner predicts this figure will reach 50% by 2022.

The need for standardisation

Industry-wide standardisation is an important concept for cloud computing in Industry 4.0, which Deutsche Telekom recognises to ensure its systems can communicate effectively along the supply chain:

“The cloud is the basis for all innovative solutions and offers in Industry 4.0. Building on cloud technology, we develop and offer standardised products such as our end-to-end solutions for industrial machine monitoring, asset tracking or shipment monitoring.”

Such standardisation will also futureproof the Industry 4.0 supply chain as new technologies and devices are developed and integrated, as Lucy Pamment, head of product development – Supply Chain Solutions at the Access Group, explains:

“As more data becomes accessible via the cloud it will enable further integration across platforms and also transparency of the supply chain. Machine connectivity, analytics and more real time shop floor data capture are all areas getting more focus. We are working with industry leaders to produce standard interfaces to additional systems.”


Security matters

Pamment believes cloud computing is “extremely important” to the development of Industry 4.0, but security concerns must be addressed from the outset of any cloud deployment.

“Having all data stored centrally in the cloud means more connectivity and access to information. It’s becoming increasingly critical to ensure your systems are secure and back-ups plans are in place. As more data gets stored digitally and required for auditing and traceability purposes its even more important, cloud solutions take the risk away from the physical site and can have system recovery in place should anything unfortunate occur.”

Cloud security is a key concern for both companies and customers and the significant number of high-profile data breaches in recent times have done little to curb these concerns. Businesses need to take the appropriate measures, as Pamment explained:

“Pen testing and other security measures should be in place and proven for anyone considering cloud solutions. It’s also vital the company storing the data has the necessary locations and services backup and recover data if an unfortunate event occurs.”

The focus on cloud security has been “further sharpened” in recent times, according to Deutsche Telekom, as the number of interfaces and thus the number of possible entry gates has increased.

“Security is also important in the context of the emerging decentralisation of IT. Our cloud solutions are ‘made in Germany’ according to the strict regulatory guidelines on which customers can rely.”

As a result, it’s vital to pick a cloud provider based on their security credentials and a wide range of additional factors. Focusing just on cost alone is a mistake, you also need to consider “backup services, experience in the sector, experience with on-premise, and have a proven track record with solving problems with multiple systems,” according to Pamment.

Speedy SMEs

 While budgetary constraints are at the forefront of the minds of most businesses, the cloud brings further benefits to those investing in Industry 4.0, according to a recent report from the Harvard Business Review:

“Most cloud proponents today agree that cloud’s value comes not from cost savings but from speed. Organisations that cut the time between identifying a need for a new capability and delivering it are seeing a real advantage.”

The same report reveals 71% of businesses said the cloud has increased their business agility, which allows them to increase their time to market and provide clients with a faster response rate.

SMEs are in a unique position to truly embrace such agility as they are not constrained by the legacy systems that hamper many established corporations. As a result, the cloud can keep pace with the growth and expansion plans of these fledgling businesses.

However, research reveals only 5% of SMEs are thoroughly networked and only one-third are taking their first steps into digitisation. As such, it is vital for smaller enterprises to implement a clear strategic roadmap if they want to migrate to the cloud. Pamment said:

“We offer hosting and SaaS (Software-as-a-Service), however, many small- to mid-sized firms are still at the beginning of the digitisation journey. So, more appropriate services could be disaster recovery services.”

Automated future

Going forward, the cloud will allow Industry 4.0 to develop mature, automated systems that will provide a flexible and fully connected supply chain where human interaction reduces to a minimum through autonomous predictions and self-regulating supply chains. Pamment said:

“I would predict, automated machine data and predictive analysis to form part of the manufacturing and ERP systems with no intervention. Real time analysis and details will be available on demand by throughout the supply chain – and audit and traceability reports will be accessed digitally on request.”

Routledge agrees that cloud computing opens to door to a range of technical innovations thanks to the scalability it offers:

“Cloud computing, or more specifically the technology ecosystem it promotes, means that we can start to take advantage of Big Data and scalable compute power to drive automated optimisations for business – both at the decision level, then the control level.”

 “Rather than humans managing problems/exceptions with short term planning decisions that are often limited in scope and take time to execute, we can start to look at artificial intelligence and machine learning algorithms that can automatically optimise and control end-to-end business process performance in the most efficient way possible. In the same way we have autonomous cars, businesses could start driving themselves bases on stated objectives and policies.”

 This brave, new world of advancing automation is already upon us. Cloud platforms are being developed to securely capture and analyse information from a range of devices to automate and optimise business processes. The effect on the supply chain cannot be overstated and the possibilities of cloud technology will exceed our imagination.

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