Digital technologies have transformed how people work. With smartphones providing access to applications and data anywhere and anytime, the modern enterprise has become a flexible, adaptable and fast-moving machine. Entire business models have shifted around new expectations created by digital technologies, and the manufacturing industry isn’t immune to these changes. In fact, there’s a revolution underway.
While most manufacturers aren’t about to let their workers use a personal smartphone on the shop floor, digitization is still taking hold in the sector, and specialized devices, often designed for firstline workers, are helping to fuel this change.
The disruption in manufacturing comes at the convergence of various emerging solutions that are reaching maturity quickly and - when considered alongside global economic conditions - are pushing industrial organizations to innovate in a hurry.
The new manufacturing reality
It wasn’t too long ago when the manufacturing world discussed the need to adopt common network architectures across business and production networks. The thought was that these systems need to talk to each other, making common connectivity critical.
The sector has moved quickly beyond those initial advances, but the conversation around transporting data across various lines of business is alive and well.
The reason for this focus on data sharing is simple: A wide range of deeply related and interconnected technologies are all becoming mainstream in a similar timeline. Consider the following:
- Industrial robotics solutions are advancing to the point that McKinsey believes manufacturers could use existing, market-ready technology to automate approximately 64 percent of the work hours spent on manufacturing activities.
- Additive manufacturing is rising with incredible speed, as Grand View Research expects the 3D printing market to rise to a value of $23.79 billion by 2025.
- Demand for internet of things devices for manufacturing will create a market valued at $994 billion by 2023, according to Allied Market Research. The manufacturing IoT solution market was valued at just $424 billion in 2016.
- Increased use of blockchain in mainstream global sectors, such as supply chain management, will lead to market expansion at a compound annual growth rate of 79.6 percent for the 2017 to 2022 period, MarketsandMarkets found.
- The augmented reality sector is rising even more quickly, as Zion Market Research predicts it will expand at a CAGR of 85.2 percent from 2016 through 2021.
All of these trends can be disruptive on their own, but consider how they can intersect. Here’s one scenario:
- A sales worker takes a client call asking for a custom product and uses schematics housed in an enterprise resource planning platform, to connect with engineers and identify what it would take to customize an existing item to meet that need.
- The ERP is used for vendor assessment and supply pricing, making it easy to offer an accurate quote.
- That data is passed on in a work request to warehouse and production managers.
- The supply chain leader connects with vendors to order parts and uses telematics data to track shipments and make sure parts arrive on schedule.
- At the same time, production managers use real-time data from the warehouse to request goods to get started on the production run.
- On the shop floor, an engineer reconfigures a robot to handle the product on the work order and sets a 3D printer to create the custom component that isn’t typically included in a production run.
- Along the way, human workers with augmented reality goggles can compare products with 3D projections of schematics to maintain quality control.
- Once completed, the item is packed and given an RFID badge before being sent to the warehouse.
- In the shipping department, a worker scans the RFID tag, immediately identifies the custom product and uses an ERP system to identify the optimal delivery method relative to the customer’s expectations.
All of a sudden, a manufacturer has gone from operating as a production company to providing a custom good service to a client, all without significant disruption. This is possible in today’s technology climate, and the key is to use data to allow for work coordination between internal employees, external partner and machines.
The importance of digital transformation
The operational vision outlined above is only possible because every stakeholder can access data when and where it is needed. You can’t have a key process stalled if a firstline worker is out on the edge of the network receiving a shipment. Similarly, your sales worker in the field needs apps and services to connect with production leaders and set accurate customer expectations. Digital transformation at every line of business is essential.
What’s more, PricewaterhouseCoopers found that the economic environment surrounding the global manufacturing sector is stifling output. Organizations can’t expect to maintain the status quo and stay ahead. Instead, they must develop strategic technology platforms that drive efficiency and performance gains, letting them eke out the productivity advantages that get them ahead of competitors.
Regardless of size or current IT maturity level, manufacturers are increasingly reliant on IT innovation as the path to competitive differentiation.
Setting out on the path to digitization
Besides the potential gains associated with ready access to data across all lines of business, the other piece of good news is that leading tech companies are working to make solutions easier to put in place. For example, Microsoft has created a dedicated line of devices and a suite of Office 365 tools specifically aimed at the needs of firstline employees, making it easier for IT to get those users set up on the network and up to speed. ERP providers are continually innovating their solutions for better mobile access and workflow support for emerging technologies.
These types of advances can set a foundation for progress, but ultimately, a digitally transformed organization is able to blend technology seamlessly across processes. That requires tight integration between diverse platform types and excellent management to ensure IT problems don’t derail productivity. That’s where we step in. At ICS-Support, we offer the full suite of services manufacturers need to deploy, manage and maintain state-of-the-art IT systems. Contact us today to learn more.