SaaS in Manufacturing: How It’s Changing the Industry
Thanks to cloud and edge computing, SaaS — software as a service — has become a highly transformative technology in both manufacturing and the supply chain. It makes software systems and various technologies accessible to a wide range of operations, big or small. That’s because the system itself is hosted remotely, so the central technologies don’t have to be on the premises or within a facility. SaaS tools are fully built cloud applications.
Picture the type of software that governs a sophisticated manufacturing system. The servers that host that software, and where most of the data is contained, are located off-property away from the manufacturer’s facility. At any time, it can communicate with the connected equipment, and users can access the entire system remotely as well.
However, it’s maintained, serviced, and even secured by a remote provider. The only thing the manufacturer has to worry about is whether or not the connected equipment is running optimally. They don’t have to manage an on-site data center, update servers and software configurations, or even troubleshoot major problems — that’s all done by the SaaS provider.
SaaS is innovative, but how does that system affect the manufacturing industry as a whole? What are the benefits of SaaS when deployed within a smart factory or Industry 4.0 environment?
1. Reduced Costs
Manufacturing software comes in many forms. There are tools to aid in engineering and design, sales or marketing, measure production quality, organize finances, and much more. Each one of those applications requires a steady stream of data and a team to manage both the software and its backend.
Just imagine how much processing power is necessary to handle all of those systems, let alone the physical storage needed to contain the resulting data to keep it all running. The best solution even today is to build a data center, whether on-site or remote. They are very costly to manage and maintain.
SaaS solutions eliminate those costs and requirements because the bulk of the system is hosted elsewhere, on the provider’s servers. There’s no equipment to install and no software to update or manage. It’s all done off-site. That also reduces the need for a large IT or software development team on the manufacturing side.
The kickback is much lower operating costs for manufacturers, despite all the benefits realized from the applications.
2. Better Security
When you need a process completed, but you don’t have the proper knowledge, the common practice is to call in a specialist. That is precisely what SaaS providers are, and it means they have access to highly specific resources and tools that no manufacturer realistically does. That translates to a better solution overall, especially when it comes to digital and data security.
Because their entire business is securing and maintaining their data centers, to provide software to clients, they have much more sophisticated and capable solutions in place. That filters down to the manufacturers subscribing to SaaS services, who realize better data security and smarter digital protections.
3. Unparalleled Flexibility
Manufacturers maintaining software and technology solutions in-house have to scale up when the operation grows, which can be devastating depending on how the market shifts and demand fluctuates. Spending hundreds of thousands to upgrade equipment only to experience a downturn in the market can ruin any business.
SaaS providers handle scaling and delivery. They can add new terminals and new users, and install or activate servers to accommodate their clients. This is not only done seamlessly, but it will also happen near-instantly. Customers can even try before they buy, trialing the services and solutions before deploying them within their facilities. If the software doesn’t work out or add value, it can be canceled at any time with a minimal impact on the greater operation.
4. Enhanced Interoperability
Typically, two pieces of distinct software cannot communicate with each other and the data they utilize isn’t guaranteed to be interchangeable. In manufacturing, this happens a lot with ERP and CMMS solutions. It complicates manufacturer-vendor relationships, especially when the default systems offer no interoperability.
Because SaaS solutions are hosted in the cloud, the systems accommodate interconnection between many different tools and platforms. CMMS, ERP, CRM, and project management tools can all communicate and share data, and the SaaS platform ensures it’s compatible and readable between those solutions.
5. Truly Agile Operations
If you look at what SaaS solutions provide manufacturers from a top-down perspective, it affords many operational efficiencies and creates new opportunities, without increasing the responsibilities the manufacturer is forced to take on. They have everything to gain and almost nothing to lose. Faster and more agile operations are implemented as a result, thanks to a system that’s always on, always ready to scale, and constantly being adapted to the needs of the manufacturer.
6. A Mobile Workforce
Because of the way SaaS solutions are maintained and delivered, they open up a whole new level of accessibility and mobility for manufacturing teams. Everyone from the decision-makers and supervisors to equipment operators gain access to on-demand and mobile-friendly solutions that can be accessed anywhere, at any time.
Additional features include mobile and real-time notifications, instant communication even between departments, remote access to mission-critical applications, and much more. Besides, security is managed on the backend, server-side, so users can move from terminal to terminal, or device to device, without compromising the system.
The caveat is that they need to follow proper security protocols, which means no password sharing or reuse, and precise authentication or verification systems.
An Ever-Evolving Industry Requires Adaptable Solutions
SaaS solutions are changing the manufacturing and production industries, but it’s not the only technology making a dent in normal operations. The entire field is undergoing a revolution, moving ever closer to Industry 4.0. The concept will see a marriage of advanced manufacturing techniques and smart, contextually-driven platforms to achieve seamless intercommunication, efficiency, and operability.
Software as a service plays a role in that movement, as manufacturers look to offset some of the requirements of the digital transformation. SaaS allows manufacturers to keep up with ever-evolving industries and markets. It reduces operational costs, speeds up output and processes, enhances security, improves software compatibility, and helps facilitate truly agile operations. What more could you ask for?
This article is written by Devin Partida. Devin is a tech writer with an interest in the IIoT and manufacturing. She is also the Editor-in-Chief of ReHack.com.