Never Fear the Cloud
By Dennis Hodges, CIO, Inteva Products
Inteva Products was founded in 2008 and initially included the interiors and closures business that had previously been part of Delphi. Over the next seven years, it expanded its business and its product portfolio, adding motors and roof systems product lines. Inteva started with about 13 sites, primarily in North America. In contrast, today Inteva has 12,500 employees in 43 global sites, across 18 countries and 5 continents. “We are more creative today in our problem-solving skills because of cloud computing. I truly believe this is the new way of doing things”
When Inteva was founded, the team started with a clean slate and I was tasked with building a program that moved faster, could scale across a global organization, and cost significantly less than the solutions of our previous company. I also needed to make this transition happen very quickly. After much research, we decided to move a large portion of our IT operations into the Cloud, which was largely unprecedented for a global tier-one automotive supplier at the time.
There are many reasons why I appreciate cloud computing, and most of these advantages have been enhanced further over the last eight years. The strengths of cloud-based IT operations may be applied to other manufacturers and by sharing this, I hope to help others who may be in the same predicament.
The most obvious reason cloud computing works for us is cloud computing isn’t server-based. With our number of global facilities and employees, we would need large numbers of servers to support our requirements globally. With the help of our network partner, Virtela, we only have to plug into their router and they host all of our global Wide Area Network. We now only need three people on our staff to manage the LAN and WAN capacity for all 43 global facilities.
We have also implemented a number of systems and servers in the cloud that have alleviated the need to construct a large infrastructure team. The server management team we have is becoming more focused on architecture and strategy as we move more to the cloud.
The savings we receive from this alone is worth the investment in cloud computing. While this is a plus for a global organization, it would be a huge win for a small company with limited resources.
The cloud-based companies we partner with are all relatively young, agile and flexible. Their technology is fresh and new so we don’t end up with legacy systems that weigh us down. Together with our cloud partners, we’re able to address today’s problems without yesterday’s baggage.
Regardless of company size customers expect 24x7 services, regardless of time zones or location. Collaborative manufacturing is an integral tool for our industry. We need to be able to flawlessly produce the same component with one shared design in multiple facilities. For the sake of safety and quality, each time the design is changed and upgraded, the new version needs to be shared securely across these sites. Whether the team is in Gadsden, Alabama or Shanghai, China, they need to be able to pick up the project where they left off. With our operations in the cloud, the team’s only downtime is for sleep, not because of technology limits.
One weak link for many manufacturers is the ability to view shop floor operations in real time. At Inteva, we’ve recently started attacking this through Sight Machine, a cloud partner who has the ability to see an interface with devices on the shop floor for production and performance management. This software then speaks to our Plex Manufacturing Software. We are moving to be able to have data to better understand the health of our facility, equipment so preventative maintenance can be done before the machine breaks down. Operational excellence translates to enhanced profitability.
Finally, and most importantly, implementations are extremely quick and seamless. The team doesn’t spend months or years of coding, building and launching. We don’t experience downtimes due to ramp-up glitches. This translates into cost and time savings.
What all of this means for manufacturing companies of all sizes is the ability of the IT department to spend a lot less time on the routine IT tasks. Software coders, hardware and server admins, as well as help desk support staff, can now turn their attention to business analysis. We’ve found when our IT business analysts directly support business functions, operations run smoother. With the “Internet of Things,” shop floors are becoming more and more automated and our team is essential to improving processes and making sure systems are running at peak capacity.
We are more creative today in our problem-solving skills because of cloud computing. I truly believe this is the new way of doing things. Getting away from the old mindset about manufacturing technology has allowed everyone in our global organization to move faster and better serve our customers.