Now is a very exciting time for the manufacturing and processing industries. Technology is redefining everything — from job descriptions and maintenance schedules to how plants and processes are designed from the get-go.
To meet the demands of the market today, companies need more flexibility, more modularity, and, of course, greater efficiency. Engineers, in turn, need to be able to produce designs quickly and accurately. They also need to be able to adapt those designs as new data comes in and new technology is introduced.
A cloud-based design platform enables engineers to meet all of these goals in a way that’s cost-effective and efficient. Here are eight reasons now’s the time to take your plant and process design into the cloud.
Collaboration among all stakeholders
Plant design has never been a one-person job. But new technologies bring even more people into the mix. For example, in the food processing and packaging industry, equipment manufacturers have shifted from being suppliers to being consultants, called in to collaborate and advise on process design.
A cloud-based platform allows you to quickly and easily collaborate with all stakeholders on a project, with the confidence that everyone will always be on the same page. This is particularly valuable during the design review and approval process.
Faster design iterations
Adding people adds complexity. And, as a rule, complexity slows things down.
But it doesn’t have to. A cloud-based software provides a centralized database for all of your engineering data. This reduces design time via real-time updates and by eliminating versioning inconsistencies.
Contributing to faster design iterations, but deserving of their own section, is integrations. Engineers use a wide variety of tools, including components libraries, information from public databases, and software for functions like modeling and simulation.
Cloud computing makes it possible to bring all of these tools under a single umbrella through integrations. This saves time and significantly reduces rework by eliminating the need to import and export data between systems.
Imagine you operate a wind power facility with widely dispersed generators. If something goes wrong and you need to send someone out to fix one of the generators, how can you keep the downtime to a minimum?
A cloud-based platform allows on-site operators to easily access the engineering data they need from a mobile device. This is useful during planned maintenance, and it’s indispensable in an emergency, when the technician may not discover exactly what they need until they get out there and start poking around.
Say the service technician you send out to the windmill makes some adjustments to the equipment. How can you ensure those adjustments are accurately reflected in the project documentation?
In addition to providing remote access to data, a cloud-based platform allows the data to be updated in real time. The technician can enter the modifications and even upload photographs as supporting documentation. You can set up an approval workflow to maintain data quality, but at least you’ll have the updates immediately, so you don’t have to rely on data entry after the fact.
Digital twins and the Internet of Things
With facilities going more and more digital, more companies are starting to leverage the power of the Internet of Things, including digital twins.
In this new world, where machines talk with other machines, the cloud is where everything comes together. Cloud-based platforms provide a way for humans to collect and analyze data from many different sources.
Servers are expensive. The hardware itself costs a pretty penny, but that’s nothing next to the cost of maintenance and security. It’s also mission critical. If your server fails and you don’t have a failover solution in place, you could find yourself without access to your engineering data and documentation, undoubtedly at the most inauspicious time.
A cloud-based platform takes this burden off your shoulders. Most providers today offer somewhere around 99.95% availability. That’s less than an hour of downtime a month. Factoring in servers, downtime, and other expenses, SherWeb estimates that over five years, cloud computing can cut your IT costs by 79%.
Last but not least, cloud computing is a scalable solution in a way that on-premises software and servers aren’t. If you need more computing power to run the simulations for a new plant, you’ve got it. That gives you more flexibility in the types of projects you can take on, so you don’t have to limit your innovation to capacity of your on-site hardware.
Compared to some other disciplines, engineering has been somewhat reluctant to move entirely to the cloud. But, with competition heating up in many industries, and the ever-growing pressure to reduce design time and cost, we believe cloud computing is just around the corner from having its day.