Technology is making a significant impact in making manufacturing operations smarter – whether related to updating existing products and services, innovating, or finding new ways to manufacture products
In the age of digital transformation, it has become pivotal for manufacturers to harness advanced technologies for driving digital transformation initiatives. While pilot initiatives and scaling of these technologies were underway before the pandemic, in these times, manufacturing companies must accelerate the pedal toward automating their processes to be cost-effective, innovative, and deliver exceptional business outcomes.
The post-pandemic era has brought several challenges for manufacturers: they need to differentiate themselves, have a more eye on costs, increase speed to market and be ready for demand fluctuations. The future factory cannot rely on archaic processes and technologies as it will not only impact their production efficiencies but also make it impossible to meet the timely expectations of customers.
Technology is making a significant impact in making manufacturing operations smarter – whether related to updating existing products and services, innovating, or finding new ways to manufacture products. And hence it has become highly pivotal to the IT leadership teams of manufacturing firms to help their companies achieve growth by weaving a determined focus towards harnessing the potential of the new age and intelligent technologies.
This is how they can achieve better production capabilities, consistent product innovations, and cost-effective operations.
Some of the critical technologies that are making an impact are:
Robotic Process Automation (RPA): Robotic Process Automation: Although "robotics" as technology was prevalent earlier, the new avatar of RPA gives an enhanced control and extends automation in factory operations. It can drive end-to-end automation of manufacturing from packing a product to capturing systemic data of the manufacturing operations, lower operation costs, and free-up time of the exceptional talent to focus on more meaningful tasks. Companies that fail to integrate automation in their processes do not have a great chance to compete against forward-looking competitors.
Information technology and Operational Technology (IT/OT): OT is machine-oriented, IT is business-oriented. The convergence of IT and OT has opened up enormous opportunities for the manufacturing sector. A simple case would be to analyze power consumption data or reduce maintenance downtime by using convergence.
Artificial intelligence (AI)/ Internet of Things (IoT): Artificial intelligence and the Internet of Things are revolutionizing several aspects of manufacturing. The data-driven insights can provide impetus to logistic operations by improving the agility of the supply chain and ensuring real-time monitoring of production processes. According to an Economics report, titled Beyond the Crisis, about 34% of manufacturing firms are already using AI or AI-built technologies to solve operational complexities, leveraging their talent for meaningful tasks and accelerating their digital transformation initiatives.
Augmenting the integration of these technologies can help provide specific inputs concerning consumer experience and help build customization or personalization capabilities. This, however, requires strong leadership from the top management so that a comprehensive list of use cases can be generated.
Cloud: Cloud technology offers enterprises tremendous scalability and agility for new-age manufacturing operations. Today's digital times need connectivity on the cloud to meet the erratic demands of customers. Cloud enables manufacturers and IT teams centralized visibility and helps enterprises stay connected through their supply chains to address a wide range of business challenges in real-time.
While manufacturing organizations must get into technology adoption, it is imperative to study the right fit for the organization. One can always leverage the expertise of partners and peers but still build one's processes as per the organization's needs. Finally, while organizations are in a hurry to implement and adopt technology, it is equally important to keep the security, governance, and compliances as topmost priorities and not compromise on them in lieu of faster execution.
To get the best out of the above technologies, manufacturing companies must have a clear roadmap, leadership buy-in, and vision to roll out the use cases across locations. With constant changes and a very evolving world of technology, one has to evaluate the model of implementation that is best suited for the business. The "one size fits all" concept cannot be applied as each organization has its unique products, processes, and capabilities.
The author is CIO, The Bombay Dyeing and Manufacturing Company