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by Alex Alvarez, April 29, 2022

Taking Advanced Manufacturing Technology to the Cloud

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Manufacturing always has been and always will be about tangible things: the products we make and the tools we use to make them.  

In many ways, the cloud is the opposite of all that—it’s the term for data storage and computes resources made available over the internet, enabling you to store and access data and applications from anywhere. The cloud is what gives us Zoom calls and shared models. It gives us a “digital thread” for individual products and access to software-as-a-service. And it lets us use compute-heavy applications such as simulation, machine learning, and generative design without the need to have a supercomputer under your desk.  

There’s not much you can see or touch with the cloud. You could pay a visit to a data center—but which one? Your data could be anywhere and in a sense, it’s everywhere. The idea with the cloud is that ultimately your data and your applications are simply where you need them to be when you’re ready to do something.  

But for all its intangibility, the cloud is playing a growing role in advanced manufacturing technology, changing both what and how we make. And it’s transforming numerous aspects of the business, not only how we design and fabricate, but how we engage with customers and manage our organizations. Let’s take a look at the evolving role of the cloud in advanced manufacturing today.  

advanced-manufacturing-technology

The Cloud in Sales: New Approaches to CPQ 

The Cost, Price, and Quote (CPQ) process has historically been a labor-intensive one for many manufacturers. The more bespoke the product—think HVAC systems for individual buildings or customized manufacturing lines for factories—the more time it would take for a sales engineer or other technician to spec out the solution. It was common to spend days, often weeks, sometimes months on that configuration process—with no guarantee of a sale.  

With cloud-based CPQ systems like Tacton CPQ, significant parts of the process can be automated and streamlined. By sharing design and engineering data in the cloud, sales engineers can configure a system in minutes or hours while talking to a customer. With the right advanced manufacturing technology integration, the customer can even do the configuration themselves through a web interface. The process can save hundreds of hours and millions of dollars every year.    

KETIV is now a Tacton partner. We can help you setup and manage your cloud-based CPQ deployment for optimal results. Learn more. 

Design and Collaboration in the Cloud 

For most of the 20th century, design and engineering teams worked more or less independently. Industrial designers came up with the creative ideas, put them down on paper, then engineers told them whether it was possible to make—and what changes would be needed to make it at scale. It was rarely one-and-done—rather, there would be multiple rounds of discussion, revision, and iteration. When the industry went digital beginning in the 1980s, the adoption of CAD didn’t really change much. Engineers usually took design printouts and analyzed them like drawings. Data was still lost at handoff and recreated—sometimes multiple times.  

Today, using advanced manufacturing technology’s cloud-based platforms like Fusion 360 and Fusion 360 Manage, designers and engineers can share a common platform. Engineering input can be given as the design develops, rather than when a design is “finished,” and the two sides can collaborate in a way that was never possible before. The same model that the designers will have crafted and honed is the same one that engineers can review, analyze, and optimize, and that’s the same model that will go to the floor for fabrication. The inherent inefficiencies of the old approach fade away, replaced by a process in which everyone can see what they need to see and give input when it counts most for maximum efficiency and productivity.   

But the cloud gives you access to more than just applications as a service. It also gives you access to nearly unlimited data storage and computing power. When you put those all together, new processing-intensive digital tools like simulation and generative design become accessible on a pay-to-play basis, without massive up-front hardware investments. That means you can get design solutions from your system, and it means you can see how your designs will perform before they exist in the real world. That makes for faster iteration and greater innovation overall. And it’s the cloud that puts these possibilities within reach for manufacturers of all sizes.  

Engineering and Product Data Management 

The design and engineering data that you create can be a tremendous asset, but only if it’s managed correctly. Product Data Management systems like Autodesk Vault were created to help and have the benefit of being CAD-agnostic, meaning they can store and organize files and data from any tool, but local deployments can deliver only local benefits—and only if team members of can access the right files in the right way according to their role. For those without specialized training, Vault often proved a challenge to set up, manage, and maintain properly.   

With Vault in the cloud-managed as a service, the complexity of Vault can be reduced, and effective Product Data Management (PDM) can become a seamless and intuitive process. At KETIV, we’ve helped dozens of companies improve their PDM initiatives through the power of advanced manufacturing technology and handling the setup and ongoing administration of their Vault deployment remotely in the cloud. So instead of worrying about maintenance of hardware, software, and management of your own network, customers can focus on what they do best—designing and making better products.  

Integration Across the Enterprise  

As manufacturers digitized their businesses through the 1980s and 1990s, separate platforms emerged for different purposes and departments—ERP for management, CRM for marketing and sales, CAD for design and engineering, etc. These platforms worked—they did what they were designed to do. What they didn’t do was play well together. Getting data from one system to another was difficult or impossible. Interoperability was often just an idea—in practice, integration of these systems could take hundreds or thousands of hours and often simply failed.  

With Autodesk Forge, we have the possibility of a unified ecosystem for manufacturing for the first time. Originally a cloud-based platform for developers to create and customize tools with the capabilities of Autodesk products using APIs, Autodesk has committed to making Forge a platform for the convergence of data, workflows, and teams.  

This enables formerly siloed teams to share data for different purposes. So the sales team can use design data to customize and configure products. Designers and engineers can use customer data to inform the next generation of products. Managers and decision-makers can analyze and optimize processes to create greater efficiencies. And data can even be shared with partners to improve collaboration in the supply chain.  

Ultimately, it can enable new processes, such as supporting and training workers on the job with augmented reality. It can enable the democratization of manufacturing, too, since small- and medium-sized shops can compete against the biggest players, delivering components that are automatically validated for quality. That in turn means greater resilience for the entire industry. The “digital thread” that we’ve been hearing about for years is now finally becoming a reality, and it means new possibilities for Product Lifecycle Management. But none of it is possible without the cloud.  

Advanced Manufacturing Technology: Empowered by Innovation  

Manufacturers make things, stuff, material goods—they always have, and they always will. But in the digital age, they also make data. The cloud turns out to be an optimal way to organize, manage, and share that data in intelligent and secure ways so that you can make better things, better stuff, better goods. Not every process needs to happen in the cloud, and not every process should. But for processes that can be improved by collaboration and data-sharing, or where on-call processing, storage, or applications can make a difference, the cloud is proving itself an essential tool for forward-looking manufacturers.  

Interested in learning what the cloud can do for your company? Want to discuss how you can do more with your data? KETIV has helped hundreds of companies integrate and operationalize the cloud for better outcomes. When you’re ready to have a conversation, give us a call.  

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