Manufacturing, in general, may seem like an orthodox industry that is slow to change and introduce true innovations. However, the digital transformation doesn’t pass it by, and companies working in this sphere cannot ignore either opportunities or challenges it opens up. Those who embrace digital transformation early on can get a serious competitive advantage while those who ignore it risk being left behind.
So what will be the most important digital transformation trends to keep track of in the year to come? Let’s take a look at them!
Internet of Things
Internet of Things stands at the forefront of digital transformation processes in the context of manufacturing, mainly because it opens up so many possibilities for streamlining, automating and simplifying all kinds of manufacturing processes. Potential implementations range from simple and even simplistic applications like real-time feedback and alerts about production defects or damaged goods to complex systems incorporating the entire manufacturing process. Either way, they can considerably improve production rates and decrease costs and wasted raw materials. So it is only the beginning – the eventual image offered by Industry 4.0 is that of an almost fully automated factory where all the equipment is interconnected, online and, to a certain extent, intelligent – so that it can make its own decisions.
IoT application also opens up the road to mass customization – an approach to production that was considered impossible in the times of the previous industrial paradigm. Today engineering and manufacturing of many different subtypes of products depending on the demands of individual clients is no longer a far-fetched prospect.
Whether you produce custom metal gates or iPhones, the key to making sure your company works efficiently is workflow integration. While your business may consist of dozens of individual elements, departments, and teams that function independently from each other, you can improve their efficiency by making sure all the tasks they perform and information they use are integrated. If you keep limiting yourself to traditional communication methods like email or phone calls, you put a limit on the amount and quality of information you can exchange. However, if you create an internal messaging system connecting every employee, especially if this system gives one an opportunity to interact not just via textual messages but using voice, video and other media as well, you will increase the rates at which employees share their knowledge and skills, leading to a healthier workplace and better employees satisfaction.
Breakdowns in critical equipment can mean very serious losses for manufacturers, no matter what area they work in. According to Information Technology Intelligence Consulting, 98 percent of organizations claim that a single hour of downtime can cost them more than $100,000. Taking this into account it is hardly surprising that keeping all machinery functioning smoothly is one of the primary concerns of any manufacturing business. One of the ways to ensure this is the use of predictive maintenance technology, which can decrease maintenance expenses by 20 percent, half the number of unplanned outages and potentially extend the lifespan of equipment by years. How is it done? Predictive maintenance automatically keeps track of equipment utilizing a number of metrics, giving business owners an opportunity to understand how their own systems work, when and why they fail and how to predict and prevent it.
AI and Machine Learning
Self-improving algorithms aren’t a new thing – computers have been teaching themselves how to excel at all kinds of procedures for more than a decade. However, it only recently started to find its way into the manufacturing paradigm. Machine learning changes the way businesses collect information, perform advanced tasks, predict customers’ behavior. Machine learning can show you which factors influence the production rates more than others, influencing the overall output and efficiency. Using sensors instead of humans means less possibility for human error, which means less wasted time, raw materials and other resources.
Most manufacturing employees aren’t office workers. They normally don’t have computers, desks and corporate emails as parts of their work environments, which means that if you want to unite all of them into a network, most communication won’t be happening with the help of desktop devices. Introduction of digital technology (most importantly, the Bring Your Own Device principle) can have a significant impact on the overall efficiency and effectiveness of manufacturing employees and should be one of the main priorities for any manufacturing businesses willing to have the edge over their competition.
Digital transformation takes many forms and encompasses many different areas of life for manufacturing businesses: from the way their employees keep each other informed about their work to the way the manufacturing process per se is organized. In order to succeed in this area you don’t have to do all of this at once – but starting with something from this list can be instrumental for your long-term success.