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Finding the Right Fit with Your Cloud Manufacturing Software Technology

Pat Waurzyniak
By Patrick Waurzyniak Contributing Editor, SME Media

Manufacturing Engineering: Tell us a little bit about your background and how you’ve been involved in manufacturing.

Diego Tamburini: Certainly! This is actually my third tour with Microsoft, which I started in November of last year. I currently work as the principal industry lead for Azure Manufacturing, where I focus on making sure that Azure delivers the best cloud platform for manufacturing. Another important part of my job is to share Microsoft’s cloud story with decision makers and influencers in the industry. Before Microsoft, I worked as the manufacturing industry strategist for Autodesk for about five years.

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Diego Tamburini
Principal Industry Lead
Azure Manufacturing
Microsoft Corp.

Before Autodesk [on my second tour with Microsoft], I worked in the Microsoft Dynamics development team developing the first cloud release of Dynamics ERP for Professional Services. I also worked with the Developer and Platform Evangelism group, helping Global ISVs in Engineering and Manufacturing align their product strategies with future Microsoft technologies.

I also worked as a research engineer at Georgia Tech, doing research on engineering information modeling. And before that, I worked at SDRC [now Siemens PLM] as a PLM implementation engineer, helping large customers implement our PLM system [known as Metaphase at that time].

ME: Why should manufacturing companies care about the cloud?

Tamburini: Generally speaking, manufacturing companies should care about the cloud because it is a much better option than on-premise implementations to do things that are important in manufacturing.

Let me start with the reasons that are common to any company, not just manufacturers. For starters, the cloud allows you to outsource the plumbing aspects of your IT operations. Cloud vendors take care of the availability of the hardware, keeping the software running, security, updates, replacing broken hardware, etc. Next, the cloud allows you to scale up and down as you need it and pay just for what you use. So instead of buying hardware and software based on your peak usage and having it unused most of the time, you add or remove machines as needed.

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Graphic showing differences between SaaS, PaaS and IaaS cloud implementations. Image courtesy Autodesk Inc.

For manufacturers specifically, the cloud is a much better model to do the distributed computing things that are common in manufacturing scenarios. For example, it would be very difficult—prohibitive for most—to do IoT without the cloud because you are dealing with potentially thousands of devices, located all over the place, streaming huge amounts of data that needs to be stored, processed, and reasoned over. All the while, you need to ensure security across firewalls, availability, and reliability of the messages that your IoT devices are sending. You could conceivably do that without the cloud, but it would be extremely difficult to do it right.

So manufacturing companies have embraced the cloud in most of their supporting functions [CRM, HRM, finances] and now this adoption is spreading to the other departments [engineering, operations, services]. This is, of course, fueled by the fact that most software vendors are now providing cloud-based or cloud-enhanced solutions—PLM, CAD, CAE, ERP, MES, IoT—on a subscription-based model that provides a much better value to manufacturers.

ME: What types of things can manufacturing companies do in the cloud?

Tamburini: Generally speaking, manufacturing companies can do three basic things in the cloud:

  • Host their IT environments: basically, instead of owning and maintaining your own IT environment, you outsource it to a cloud vendor. In this scenario, you hear the term ‘lift-and-shift,’ that is basically relocating your software from one place to another, in this case the cloud. For example, if you have SQL Server running in your premises, you can now run it in a VM [virtual machine] in the cloud.
  • Run applications from CAD/CAE/PLM/ERP/MES, etc., vendors that run in the cloud—like I mentioned, often by subscribing to them instead of buying perpetual licenses. Some of these applications run fully in the cloud, some will be enhanced by the cloud, such as an FEA application that runs computationally-intensive workloads using HPC on-demand in the cloud.
  • Develop their own applications: some manufacturers with custom requirements and the software development skills (or the resources to pay for them) may choose to develop their own applications. Here, again, the cloud is a better option because it makes the development of highly scalable, distributed, secure, performant, highly-available solutions much easier.

Now, specifically for manufacturing, some clouds provide services that are particularly useful in manufacturing. For example:

IoT: For example, Azure has something called the IoT Hub, which basically makes it much easier to develop applications that ingest data from IoT devices, and scale to millions of devices easily.

HPC: The cloud allows you to develop applications that ‘recruit’ hardware as needed. So if you need, say, to run a complex analysis and you are in a hurry, you could instruct the application to enlist more hardware to compute things faster in parallel.

AI/ML: This is a major area of investment for cloud vendors. For example, at Microsoft, we have a huge team called the AI and Research group that focuses exclusively on AI. So the stuff that comes out of there and lands in our Azure Machine Learning services is unparalleled. Here you have scenarios like predictive maintenance, operations optimization, anomaly detection, etc.

Stream Analytics: This allows you to process real time data, messages coming in [e.g., from IoT Hubs] and output results to a data store. This is the typical scenario of historians in manufacturing.

The other thing that is interesting for manufacturing is Hybrid Clouds. Hybrid clouds are basically deployments where you have a combination of the cloud running in your data center (private cloud) and the public cloud. Common scenarios in manufacturing that make hybrid cloud deployments particularly important are:

Edge and disconnected environments: These are prevalent in IoT applications, where equipment manufacturers collect data from sensors on their products and analyze it to help with things like predictive maintenance and optimization. Often, for performance and/or security reasons, the compute capability that does the analytics is placed directly on the oil rigs, power plants, factory floors, mines, etc. Sometimes the equipment is connected to the cloud, and sometimes it isn’t.

Security and compliance requirements: Conditions like these are often imposed by OEMs —mainly in the military and defense sectors—to which a large number of manufacturing companies supply their products.

Blockchain: This technology is starting to gain attention in manufacturing since it has the potential to address issues in several scenarios, such as supply-chain security, visibility, transactions recording; product history traceability/digital thread; issues investigation, audits; and asset management.

ME: What are IaaS, PaaS, and SaaS and how are they different?

Tamburini: The best way to describe them is by looking at what you have to manage versus what the cloud vendor manages. On one end of the spectrum, you have on-premise deployments, where you manage everything—applications, data, middleware, O/S, and the infrastructure [servers, storage, networking], in your premises [hence the name on-premise].

With Infrastructure-as-a-Service [IaaS], the cloud vendor manages the infrastructure. This is basically how the cloud got started. Cloud vendors have huge data centers and you can run your software there and access it over the Internet. Instead of actually owning the machine, you get Virtual Machines—like renting a machine for as long as you need it. The cloud vendor takes care of the infrastructure, while you purchase, install, configure, and manage your own software—operating systems, middleware, and applications.

Platform-as-a-Service [PaaS] is where the cloud vendor manages the O/S and middleware for you. So you focus on managing your applications. The cloud vendor hosts your application. Best example here are web applications running on a web server. You don’t have to worry about the web server being up and running. Sometimes PaaS is referred to as Web-service-as-a-Service.

With Software-as-a Service [SaaS], you don’t have to worry about anything—just paying your subscription and using the application. With SaaS applications, the cost of running the software can be considered as OPEX [operating expenditures] instead of CAPEX [capital expenditures]. This may have some beneficial tax implications. Also, a contractor can charge the client for the use of the software for the specific project, making it more economical for both.

New Releases

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Autodesk’s new AutoCAD 2019 update gives designers seven new specialized toolsets to make the design process faster and easier, plus new web and mobile apps. Image courtesy Autodesk Inc.

The flagship AutoCAD design software from Autodesk Inc. (San Rafael, CA) got a facelift with AutoCAD 2019, which includes specialized toolsets, new web and mobile apps, along with the usual performance enhancements. Autodesk’s AutoCAD will add specialized toolsets that are included in new subscriptions.

These seven toolsets give subscribers access to more than 750,000 intelligent objects, styles, parts, features and symbols to choose from when drawing, according to the company. AutoCAD’s new toolset intelligent features are said to help users work faster and be more efficient.

The toolsets included are architecture; mechanical; electrical; an MEP toolset with intelligent mechanical, electrical, and plumbing objects; and a plant 3D toolset, and they’re available now when subscribing to AutoCAD 2019. Users can download AutoCAD and the toolsets from the Autodesk Account portal, or from the Autodesk Desktop App. An AutoCAD 2019 or AutoCAD LT 2019 subscription also includes access to the all-new AutoCAD web app and the AutoCAD mobile app.

CAD/CAM developer PTC (Needham, MA released the Creo 5.0 version of its design environment. The new Creo is said to help companies accelerate product innovation and build better products faster by reusing the best designs and replacing assumptions with facts.

Creo 5.0 enables concepts to be transformed into smart, connected products, bridging the physical and digital worlds with augmented reality (AR) capabilities in every seat, according to the company. Creo 5.0 also introduces new capabilities in topology optimization, additive and subtractive manufacturing, computational fluid dynamics, and CAM.

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Creo Topology Optimization Extension automatically creates optimized designs based on a defined set of objectives and constraints. Image courtesy PTC

The program’s Topology Optimization Extension automatically creates optimized designs based on a defined set of objectives and constraints, unfettered by existing designs and thought processes, the company said. Creo 5.0 also introduces the Creo Additive Manufacturing Plus Extension for Materialise, which extends these capabilities to metal parts, allowing customers to print production-grade parts directly from Creo.

Creo Flow Analysis extension is a computational fluid dynamics (CFD) solution, which allows designers, engineers, and analysts to simulate fluid flow issues directly within the new Creo. The seamless workflow between CAD and CFD will allow users to integrate analysis early and often to understand product function and performance, the company said, with software that is purpose-built for the design engineer and directly integrated within Creo.

Acquisitions

Simulation software developer Ansys Inc. (Pittsburgh) has entered into a definitive agreement to acquire Optis (La Farlède, France), a provider of software for scientific simulation of light, human vision and physics-based visualization.

The acquisition will extend Ansys’ multiphysics-based portfolio into the increasingly important area of optical simulation, the company said. The transaction is expected to close in the second quarter of 2018.

A developer of physics-based software that simulates light and human vision, Optis bases its solutions on real-world physics to give the most accurate simulation possible. Its customers include auto manufacturers Audi, Ford, Toyota and Ferrari as well as manufacturers such as Boeing, Airbus, GE, Swarovski and L’Oreal.

Optis has also developed a photo-realistic VR and closed-loop simulation platform, which will help speed development of autonomous vehicles. Using this VR backbone—combined with other Ansys solutions—auto manufacturers can simulate the environment driverless vehicles are navigating, including road conditions, weather and one-way streets.

Partnerships

Software developers Zero Wait-State (Austin, TX) and PropelPLM (Santa Clara, CA) announced a new strategic partnership that combines Zero Wait-State’s PLM implementation services and integration solutions with Propel’s modern cloud PLM software. The partnership will help manufacturing companies collaborate more easily on product designs, modernize their business systems, and deliver better products to their customers, the companies said.

Software Update is edited by Senior Editor Patrick Waurzyniak.

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