Everyone knows about the term “software as a service,” or SaaS. The idea is pretty simple: instead of installing loads of software on your own servers, you subscribe to your software, and access it via the Internet over a secure link. Your users don’t know the difference.

Your IT people know the difference, though, because they don’t have to install and maintain the servers, or troubleshoot the software if something goes wrong, or do (often overnight) updates. The software company offers service guarantees, and your IT staff can be more concerned about user support than with supporting the things that the users use.

Think of car leases. One fee every month, scheduled maintenance, very low requirements from the person who leases. Even smart phone programs purchased through a carrier have that same flavor.

Now, let’s put that concept into fabricating with its big, expensive machines. Yes, many manufacturers of fabricating machines now offer the ability to pay a flat monthly fee that includes the use of the machine, the scheduled maintenance, even a “succession plan” for the hardware. In other words, when a new generation machine is available, it replaces that customer’s existing machine. And the lease is continued in a very cradle-to-grave manner.

If this were a purchase, a regular technology refresh might be a very expensive way to do business. Rigging bills, transportation, sale of the old unit, downtime, no real way to enjoy the latest iteration of a large, complex machine and its associated software, potential disruption of service, all these things and more add up to quite a headache. In a lease situation, the fabricating company worries about none of these things directly, although many of the costs are folded into the lease, as they should be.

Most of the larger suppliers of fabricating equipment also have remote support and optimization capabilities. In this scenario, the supplier has a dedicated connection to its machines inside the fabricator’s shop. That fabricator also can enjoy monitoring and changes via remote access. In this scenario, problems are fixed over the wire.

Going a step further into the future, there is no reason problems cannot be prevented in the future too. Although it seems very futuristic, it is happening today. What is enabling it? One of the big drivers of predictive maintenance/failure avoidance is the staggering amount of data that such an enterprise obtains. Mind you, these manufacturers are not spying on your operation. Instead, your data is treated as part of an overarching data set that has every customer’s data in it.

Using this “big data” methodology, patterns emerge that would otherwise be invisible. And using this data, the machine supplier can have the hardware in constantly optimized mode, as well as getting rid of the guesswork involved in laboratory-only mean time between failure (MTBF) modes. This methodology is based on the real world.