While the industry faces legitimate challenges like the ones outlined above (and more), manufacturing operations are utilizing forward-thinking solutions and methodologies to overcome them.
Here are five digital innovations that are revolutionizing the manufacturing landscape to keep up with the evolving business and customer demands.
While it may be impossible to time travel, companies are turning to digital advancements, like predictive analytics, to make forecasts about future or otherwise unknown events. Predictive analytics utilizes past data, statistical algorithms, and machine learning techniques to help manufacturers better understand how machines work or why they may be failing. By extracting actionable intelligence from new and existing data sources to predict future trends and behaviors, manufacturers can make smarter business decisions when it comes to machine maintenance, supply chain optimization, the quality of goods produced, and when consumers receive orders. Rather than going off a “gut feeling,” manufacturers are leveraging KPI’s to make informative decisions. Smart sensors have also played a role in manufacturing for years, but with the Internet of Things (IoT), the sensors can collect and measure complex data. Sensors are being rapidly adopted by manufacturing companies, lowering the overall cost of sensors and making it increasingly accessible for more companies to purchase. By investing in new technology like sensors to collect data and enable predictive analytics, manufacturers are saving valuable time and money.
Another digital trend making headway in manufacturing is robotics, which allows companies to utilize artificial intelligence and customizable technologies to meet business and customer demands. Today, manufacturers are utilizing highly customizable robots of all shapes and sizes built for the task at hand. This includes “cobots”- or robots that can safely work alongside humans. Unlike robots that may replace a worker’s responsibilities, “cobots” are designed to cooperate and collaborate with humans. Some robots are considered “heavy duty robots” because they can lift more than two tons of weight, easing the job of workers and protecting against potential injuries. The BMW Mini factory in the United Kingdom is embracing collaborative robot technology to transform its existing manufacturing process; using cobot technology, employees load one side of the jig while the robot begins working on the other, making the process less mundane.
Whether companies are collecting data via robots or other types of smart equipment, machines are commonly used in manufacturing to identify and anticipate the factors that impact daily operations, such as the speed and quality of assembly lines. Machines use different algorithms to predict wait times, shipping times and suggest the best course of action for employees, which would be too tedious of a task for employees to conduct by themselves. Machine learning algorithms along with applications and platforms, assist manufacturing companies by finding new approaches to go about their work, fine-tune product quality, and optimize their daily operations. General Electric (GE), one of the most diverse manufacturers on the planet, utilizes machine learning in their “Brilliant Manufacturing Suite” which is powered by Predix, an IoT platform. Predix uses sensors to automatically capture each step in the operation, monitor the equipment, and use data to spot potential problems and identify possible solutions. Machine learning technology is allowing companies to lower labor costs, increase production speed, improve transition times, and much more.
Another digital trend in manufacturing, specifically to business management software, is Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP). ERP systems help automate different areas of manufacturing operations under one simple system. By having only one, universal touchpoint, manufacturers have visibility into the entire operation to make improvements where necessary. While ERP is not an entirely new concept in the manufacturing industry, more recently it is being leveraged with cloud capabilities. Simply put, ERP is responsible for the information flow between business functions and manages connections to external stakeholders. From a company’s financials to the supply chain, to human resource activities, and everywhere in between, ERP keeps up with the fast-paced business environment and the constantly evolving demands of the manufacturing industry.
With the rise of digital transformation, especially online shopping, manufacturing companies are looking toward B2B eCommerce (business-to-business electronic commerce) to improve both the efficiency and effectiveness of selling products. B2B eCommerce systems aid in an effortless shopping experience by allowing manufacturers greater flexibility when it comes to selling direct-to-customer. B2B eCommerce platforms automatically sync data to cut down on inventory management and human error, delivering the right product to the consumer. Manufacturing companies such as Saltworks and Samuel Hubbard use OroCommerce which gives them the freedom to use one single website for both marketing segmentation and multichannel capabilities. This allows the business to digitally transform their stores to fit the current (and future) demands of the customers.
Whatever the challenge or digital use case may be, manufacturing operations must implement a robust, secure, flexible IT network platform to support rapidly changing business and customer demands for their unique environments. Extreme Networks works closely with manufacturing organizations to advance their technology and business needs.