Welcome to Industry 4.0: How Cloud Platforms Unlock Manufacturing’s New Era

Cloud manufacturing enables a library of digital designs and production data that can show us what works, and why.

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For hundreds of years, manufacturing has been an engine that powers opportunity, progress, and growth. From the mechanization of the first Industrial Revolution to mass production and automated assembly, manufacturing innovation has pushed the world forward. Our industry has fundamentally defined the way people work and live.

Today, we’re on the precipice of the next wave of industrial progress. Cloud manufacturing — software and infrastructure that allows manufacturing to be done across networks — offers a leap forward, transforming how we produce goods and addressing long-term challenges like visibility into factory operations and slow production.

Just as manufacturing began to leverage microprocessors for control and automation in the ‘70s and ‘80s, today we can use vast computing power to accelerate and improve manufacturing. Like the industrial innovations before it, cloud platforms don’t just change what is possible to manufacture, they change how we do it. Here’s how cloud manufacturing revolutionizes collaboration and communication across the whole supply chain.

Uniting Makers and Designers

Makeability is one of manufacturing’s biggest challenges. In the traditional system, design engineers navigate the process of creating a beautiful product, only to learn it’s unmakeable when they try to get it produced. Because these two processes — design and manufacturing — are separated, designers have little insight into factory capabilities and manufacturing processes, while manufacturers have no insight into designers’ intent or goals.

Cloud manufacturing bridges this divide. These two critical groups don’t have to work in vacuums — and improved communication means better products on faster timelines. Now, designers can upload designs and receive immediate feedback about what’s possible, including constructive comments on material, part geometry, and more. Instant communication unlocks more tools for designers while helping manufacturers understand product goals and optimize parts for production.

Accelerating Manufacturing

Cloud manufacturing can combine with additive manufacturing capabilities to take our industry to a new level, introducing unprecedented speed and elasticity. Traditionally, the design-to-production journey is slow. It can take months or even years to develop a product, because of the huge gap that exists between prototyping and production. The underlying processes and infrastructure used in prototyping is much different than that used in production, preventing easy hand-offs. 

Through cloud-enabled additive manufacturing, you can prototype using the same processes and infrastructure used in production. Fast prototyping allows you to test designs as you go. Prototyping and production take place in the same system, meaning you don’t have to start over after building a prototype because you’re working with the same technology and materials you’ll use to make the final product. This seamless handoff enables rapid iteration, letting you test production issues early in the process to avoid delays later on.

Revolutionizing Knowledge Management

Getting a product to market is a long journey. From design to prototype to scaling production and fulfillment, nailing down each step takes time. But traditionally, much of the hard-earned knowledge accrued during this journey isn’t recorded or preserved, and it can be difficult to transfer that knowledge to new products.

Cloud manufacturing enables you to monitor and record every step of the process, so you can improve your product with each new design iteration. Data collection from design to fulfillment allows you to connect dots and make smarter decisions across the entire product lifestyle.

Equipped with knowledge and understanding about which design choices produce the best manufacturing results, we can make better decisions about future product designs and manufacturing. Cloud manufacturing enables a library of digital designs and production data that can show us what works, and why. Now, when we design or manufacture something new, we don’t have to start from scratch.

Entering a New Era

Manufacturing has a bright future, and that future is playing out now with cloud manufacturing. Companies that embrace new ideas and adapt to changing technology have always been the ones that stand out. As our world evolves to take advantage of the latest manufacturing technologies, the winners of this era will be those with the most transformational, innovative solutions to enhance digital connectivity and production. Cloud manufacturing jump-starts this journey, creating new opportunities to pursue.

About Dr. King:

Dr. King is chief scientist and co-founder at Fast Radius. Outside of Fast Radius, Dr. King is Professor and Andersen Chair in the Department of Mechanical Science and Engineering at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. He was the founding Chief Technology Officer at the Digital Manufacturing and Design Innovation Institute, one of the first national manufacturing institutes in the United States. He has authored 225 journal articles and 20 patents. He is a Fellow of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers, The American Association for the Advancement of Science, and the American Physical Society. He holds a Ph.D. from Stanford University.

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