Cloud computing is helping manufacturers drive agility into their organisations by making plant floor connectivity easier and more affordable.

That’s the finding of the 2016 Plex State of Manufacturing Technology study based on a survey of nearly 200 manufacturing organizations.

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Plex Systems is a cloud ERP vendor for manufacturing.

According to the authors, “Organizations are building on the connectivity of the cloud and leveraging integration that extends from mobile devices to plant floor equipment, customers to suppliers, and people to materials. These capabilities provide a new application foundation for everything from agile process design to enterprise supply-chain management, innovation, and product quality.”

Among the key findings:

Cloud technology improves manufacturers’ ability to manage changing business needs. With the cloud, manufacturers connect the plant floor with the top floor, providing everyone access to one version of real-time data. By connecting manufacturing operations to the cloud,

  • 64 per cent of respondents better managed fluctuating customer demands
  • 55 per cent achieved stronger management of their global supply chain
  • 48 per cent found introducing new products was easier for them to manage
  • 98 per cent noted that connectivity to systems, machines, suppliers and customers delivers value to their business today

Consumer technology is making plant floor connectivity easy and affordable: Plant floor mobile solutions have historically been limited to expensive, proprietary, ruggedized devices. Affordable consumer mobile products, combined with cloud connectivity, make it easy for manufacturers to connect people and systems throughout the plant. As a result,

  • 64 per cent of respondents are using consumer tablets on the plant floor
  • 10 per cent have decreased the use of laptops
  • Respondents noted significant growth in their deployment of iOS devices (up 9 per cent year-over-year; 70 per cent total) and Android devices (up 24 per cent year-over-year; 56 per cent total)

Skills crunch

As with many industries, digital transformation is also driving demand for new capabilities and skills.

The report revealed that manufacturers listed the shortage of skilled workers as the number one obstacle to company growth in the coming year (28 per cent of respondents). Beyond the general statistics, manufacturers cite a number of challenges in recruitment.

According to the study, “Manufacturing as a career has taken a multidecade hit in North America. Both high school and college institutions have dramatically reduced the emphasis on skills education, often based on the cost of facilities and programs.”

At the same time, said the authors, public perception of manufacturing careers has been tarnished by memories of recessions and layoffs, as well as an inaccurate perception that manufacturing is still dangerous, dirty, repetitive work.

“This couldn’t be further from the truth. Today’s manufacturing plant floor is a vibrant network of people, materials, and equipment that moves with both precision and efficiency. The manufacturing worker profile is a unique blend of technologist, maker, and problem-solver.”

When asked what skills are most important for their next-generation workforce, the executives identified core manufacturing skills first (not surprisingly).

But since the connected nature of the modern plant floor is becoming more commonplace, the number two priority for new hires was data analysis.

“From materials and equipment to customers and quality, connected manufacturing environments are enabling the capture of huge quantities of data—making turning that data into insight a cornerstone for leading organizations.”

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The full report is available at

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