As information technology revolutionizes every industry from entertainment to finance, healthcare and retail, there is one vast area that has been surprisingly resistant — manufacturing. A recent survey by Oxford Economics has found that 3 out of 4 executives in charge of manufacturing industries see information technology as not particularly relevant.
Manufacturing has typically been slow to adopt new technology and has thrived so far, in spite of it. The nature of the changes brought about by information technology, however, is different. Research suggests that 40% of American manufacturers will apply information technology to the shop floor in 2017, and one in three companies not making the move will find themselves financially threatened as a result of disruptions brought about by the change in the environment.
For businesses in manufacturing and distribution that haven’t considered adopting new technology, there is still time. A business making the move today would still be ahead of most of its competitors. It would get to be the disruptor, rather than the business attempting to respond. See professional guidance regarding your manufacturing and distribution challenges, there are impressive advantages to moving quickly.
Data availability for better analysis and control
It’s impossible to make improvements to something you can’t measure, goes a famous observation by Peter Drucker, the efficiency guru. It’s common sense advice that applies well to manufacturing industries.
Operational efficiencies have come slowly to manufacturing, simply because there have been few good ways available to efficiently collect data about the way operations proceed. Traditionally, the only way to observe operational efficiency has been to send someone around to carefully collect data at every point along a production line and to then study the data obtained to determine the kind of improvements to be made. Measurements then need to be done over and over to ensure that the changes ordered have succeeded in bringing about the results hoped for.
With a digitally-enabled shop floor, sensors deployed every step of the way in the manufacturing process help production managers and analysts gain real-time information. With information easily available, experts in accounting are able to look in as well, to contribute to efficiency calculations.
Connectivity can extend beyond shop floor
A shop floor properly connected can be tapped by more than just accounting and production management. Suppliers and distributors should be able to obtain information through Cloud ERP systems to determine where they stand for supplies to be shipped, or shipments to be received. The availability of such a system can open up cost efficiencies and the ability to work with new suppliers.
Cloud ERP can make for productivity
Many manufacturing businesses do use software on the shop floor but do so in the form of discrete systems, not systems that are properly interconnected. It can take an immense amount of IT expertise to keep a number of such systems talking to one another. Putting together a cloud ERP system that seamlessly links discrete shop floor systems can free up IT personnel. These workers can be deployed in ways that are actually productive — as business analysts and data analysts who make accurate predictions to be used in pursuit of improved efficiency.
Bottlenecks and slowdowns can be instantly identified
Availability of data allows more than just superior monitoring. It can make for predictive maintenance, the ability to identify bottlenecks that can be quickly resolved. Workers can be deployed elsewhere, or space can be created, and assembly line speeds can be adjusted. In many cases, such adjustments to well-connected shop floors are able to made at multiple points in the chain.
Manufacturers who have adopted IT are enthusiastic
Of manufacturers who have recently upgraded to connected shop floors, three out of four report improved business insight; nine out of ten approvingly note better mobile access to manufacturing data. Two out of three testify to improved customer and supplier satisfaction.
While the Internet of Things may take its time finding acceptance in the consumer world, the Industrial Internet of Things is already here. It’s important for manufacturing businesses to study their ability to get on board. It makes sense to look at both sides of the argument, though. While impressive efficiencies certainly can be achieved, training costs can rise, as can the cost of resolving complex, software-related maintenance issues. With enough preparation, IT-enabled manufacturing is a technology whose time has arrived.
Tom Sanderson works in the manufacturing industry and shares his thoughts on how technology is improving his business.