Bespoke SaaS for the Manufacturing Industry

Monday, February 15th, 2016

Using the latest technologies available, the Irontech team has recently completed the design and commissioning of a cutting edge web-based production system for CNC machine control for an overseas client. The solution brings state-of-the-art SaaS architecture to the heart of day-to-day manufacturing operations and provides a showcase of the technology’s multiples benefits.

Our customer’s vision was to develop a modern system where production data would flow seamlessly between the various manufacturing entities to allow the company’s workforce to focus on core high-value tasks. As is often the case in this sector, the ultimate goals were to improve productivity and quality while reducing wastage. In this case, the business owner also wanted to design a solution that would be generic enough to be licensed to other manufacturers.

The team at Irontech identified that a custom SaaS solution was most appropriate to meet the various requirements and delivered a single MVC.Net web-based portal hosted in the Microsoft Azure cloud. The deployed system has successfully turned a labour-intensive system into a fully automated, highly efficient process contributing to a higher productivity and a reduced rate of human error.

The bespoke portal is an integrated part of the production process, where end-customer project components are assigned to individual CNC machines in the various sites around the country. Using Restful Web API technology, the CNC machines connect to the web portal to retrieve and push production data in real time. The portal automatically generates KPI information on a per machine basis.

 As with all internet-based solutions, security was paramount in the design to ensure user privacy.  Network communications are secured using TLS encryption and key database information are encrypted or hashed.  Moreover, Microsoft Azure hosting provides industry-leading best practices in term of security and data confidentiality.

 Being mobile device-friendly, the portal allows managers to access key information and to control production whether they are on, or off, site. Using the MVC ‘display mode’ feature, the web portal detects the type of platform (iOS, tablet, PC) from which the request is coming and customizes and optimizes the layout for an improved user experience. Since there are not many useful offline features in a typical industrial application, a mobile-friendly design is sufficient to remove the need to develop dedicated mobile apps, thus saving significant costs.

The portal allows other companies to register and manage their own production data completely independently. Secure communication with third-party software applications is performed using a documented platform-independent web API. Companies can therefore design their own interface, tailored to their environments and equipment. A decentralized directory service can also be provided to allow for single log-in.

From a technical perspective, a full SaaS solution should be scalable, configurable as well as supporting multi-tenancy. However, the SaaS model paradigm is not a ‘one size fits all’ approach and each application needs to be carefully tailored to the right level of maturity to be successful. It is also important to acknowledge that a SaaS solution may not always be the most adequate model.  

Like cloud computing, line-of-business SaaS model reduces the total cost of ownership (TCO) of software by way of economy of scale. It optimizes the usage of the underlying resources – think hardware and services – to allow small companies to access high-tech solutions at a fraction of the cost of a traditional equivalent ‘on-premises’ software. To maximize revenue, it is therefore essential to position the SaaS product in the large SME market.

In essence, the SaaS adds value to the day-to-day operation of our customer’s factories and the licensing revenue helps recoup the development cost of the system. It even generates its own income stream, making such an investment highly attractive. Such SaaS systems have the undeniable potential to revolutionize the production and manufacturing sector going forward. If you have a visionary concept to improve your business in this way, we would love to talk to you and design a custom solution that will not only optimize your current processes but also deliver a great return on investment.  

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