Cloud Manufacturing Paradigm: The Capabilities are Now Becoming Clear
The UK’s Best New Tech company, according to the British Chamber of Commerce, is Fractory, a cloud-based sheet metal fabrication platform
based in Manchester, UK.
While that description might sound somewhat ‘industrial’ for a tech startup, it’s simply a sign of how well trodden the intersection between software and manufacturing has become; the two now fit hand in glove.
Mechanical engineer Andreas Velling is Fractory’s head of marketing. Speaking of their award win, he explains how an ostensibly industrial business managed to beat off 77 other finalists to scoop the illustrious tech award.
“The digitisation of manufacturing has been a hot topic for the last few years. The main focus of discussion has typically revolved around the potential to optimise in-house workflows. At the same time, a whole new industry has sprung from this movement towards digitisation – that’s cloud manufacturing. Our platform enables users to upload their CAD drawings or models for instant pricing and lead times."
Fractory won the award shortly after it relocated to Manchester, UK from Estonia. They’ve since gone from seven to 24 employees. And their success points to a broader understanding - inside the manufacturing sector and out - about what cloud manufacturing can achieve.
Pictured left to right, Jamil Nathoo from Dell, who sponsored the award for Best Use of Tech, Villem Hion - Fractory's supply chain manager, Rein Torm, Chief Technology Officer, Martin Vares, CEO.
Fractory won praise from the judges for the way it has digitised the manufacturing process by allowing engineers to upload their CAD files, including 3D models, straight to the platform for instant pricing. This may sound unglamorous, and that's the point. It is an instructive example of where cloud manufacturing is headed; the layering of new technologies on top of established ones, or even layering onto other emerging tech leads to a process of converging exponentials. In other words, the possibilities become endless.
For example, cloud manufacturing processes that have been good enough to date, when layered on top of a 5G network can turbo charge what has become known as the ‘industrial Internet’. Blockchain can herald a new era of distributed manufacturing systems. With every incremental improvement to the support architecture, new potential applications become possible.
This is why people outside of the industry are starting to pay attention to what can be achieved through cloud manufacturing. The capabilities are becoming clear to everyone. It’s no longer viewed as simply a way of making workflows more efficient. It’s a disruptive force within manufacturing that has the potentially to quite quickly change how we think about the manufacturing process itself.
Fractory’s CEO Martin Vares is rightly proud of how far his firm has come in such a short space of time, but appears solidly focused on the nuts and bolts realities of what his technology can do now.
“The journey from a small Estonian market to a significant one like the UK has been full of challenges but very quick at the same time. Engineers have actually been waiting for this opportunity while everything around us has moved online. Winning this award is a testament to that,”
“Everything you see on the platform has been developed in-house. We would have been happy to use pre-existing working models but there were none. The technology was developed as an answer to the market’s needs. The uniqueness and necessity of such a solution is probably what brought us the award."
In the past decade, as innovation has accelerated, productivity in most advanced economies has stalled or slowed down. This is changing and people are beginning to understand how to bring together legacy technologies and data-driven processes to drive productivity and lay a platform for frictionless application of innovative solutions.
Fractory and business like them are just one part of what is likely to become a digital industrial revolution. And while the media hype around specific innovations are what stick in the mind, it's the efficiency gains and process improvements that really matter long term to the industry. These processes are the foundation upon which economic growth can flourish.
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