While knowledge workers have more easily adopted remote working – such as cloud technology video calls, remote assistance, and the automation of routine processes – manufacturing firms haven’t (until very recently) been able to operate in a similar way.
However, the technology now available to manufacturers is accessible and affordable enough for many businesses to drive performance improvements across the board – if they have the right data, that is.
Let’s consider the challenges and opportunities facing the sector.
Using Data Dynamically
Right now, many manufacturing plants are closed or are operating at minimum capacity. While this is a challenge for all concerned, it’s also an opportunity for factory owners to closely consider how they can operate in the most efficient way moving forward.
It all starts with data – or more specifically, being able to leverage it in real time. But this is nothing new. Lots of manufacturing companies already have a lot of data in their internal production facilities, but for the most part it’s raw and difficult to capture. It’s not available remotely or centrally.
To make better decisions, businesses need to have a dynamic way of accessing and using this data. While smart manufacturing plants use cloud technology to gather and segment data, those with a mixed environment of legacy and/or new production lines can still make use of it, by connecting existing systems into a cloud-based solution with minimal on-site footprint.
In this way, they can also integrate ERP and CRM systems, in order to align their operations and drive process efficiencies.
From Access To Automation
There are numerous ways that manufacturers can use data to optimise their operations. But just as important is being able to visualise it – in order to act on it in the most appropriate way.
Reporting is critical. Oversight of how different aspects of the manufacturing process are moving – from the number of units per hour to average stoppage times – enable factory teams to constantly analyse what’s happening and where improvements can be made.
Simple alerting and overview dashboards are effective, user-friendly ways of keeping track of activity and already provide lots of benefits. However, they’re just the tip of the iceberg.
When data is instantly accessible and visible it can also be deployed in many different ways – using Internet of Things (IoT) tech; Artificial Intelligence (AI) and machine learning, predictive analytics and more – to do everything from ordering replacement parts before they’re needed to responding to actual placed customer orders.
The need for constant monitoring and intervention is minimised too, as many different processes can be automated – meaning that fewer personnel need to be physically present on the production line, and can instead attend to more complex or value-adding tasks; while remaining in complete control.
Positive Knock-On Effect
While some manufacturing businesses have established these smart processes, others are new to working in this way – and have been prompted to do so by the global pandemic. However, by equipping themselves with the necessary technology and having immediate access to data, a whole host of other improvements and benefits are possible too.
This isn’t as difficult as it might seem. Through simple data collection – such as measuring machine statuses and quantities – a number of improvements are possible; including detecting regular and irregular inefficiencies and machine downtime, as well as remote monitoring of production statuses and operator feedback.
Ultimately, if you don’t have reliable, accurate data, you can’t make quick decisions – which you need to be able to do to respond to changing conditions.
This also applies to OEMs too. As more machinery owners get to grips with smart manufacturing, they’ll increasingly look to OEMs for support. Being able to deliver this remotely rather than helping customers on-site could result in huge time and cost savings.
Overall, data underpins so much that being able to use it will ensure everyone in the supply chain prospers – not least the end customer.
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