Andres Richter discusses how to unshackle your business potential through the consolidation of systems

The manufacturing industry or ‘Industry 4.0’ is without doubt more agile today than it has been in recent years. According to Professor Detlef Zühlke, a leading researcher in the factories of the future, we are on the brink of “a fourth industrial revolution.” This fourth revolution is about making factories more intelligent.

One of the biggest advancements has been in the sophistication of machines on the production floor, which can deliver real-time data to the back-end and monitoring systems. The rise of the ‘Internet of Things’ (IoT) brings with it a new connectivity to sensors at all stages of the production process. The ‘Smart Manufacturing’ trend is being led by global corporations: IBM announced earlier this year it will spend $3 billion over four years to create an IoT unit and develop software to help customers do the same. With this platform, manufacturers can take advantage of machine-to-machine connectivity, with the intelligence to make adjustments without human assistance.

However, until we can realise the full potential of smart manufacturing in the UK, there are two major trends which are dominating the way companies do business: an expanding global ecosystem of suppliers and the constant evolution of customer demands.

While outsourcing reduces capacity limitations and allows tight-turnaround demands to be met, the expansion of the manufacturing ecosystem also brings new challenges. There is a new and pressing need to manage and monitor third party activity. As the level of complexity in the logistics domain increases and vendors around the world require synchronisation, companies must be able to optimise what they do, and where.

As customer demands become more complex, products are expected to be personalised but ready and shipped within a short timeframe. Time to market must be shorter and rapid response times are a must. When people buy online they expect fast delivery. We’re seeing far less of the ‘closed’ mass produced items of days gone by. Instead, products are offered in various configurations, which are often defined per order as customers expect product on demand.

SMEs hoping to remain competitive must look to new technologies to work with a fully integrated system across all facets of the business to avoid being held back by outdated legacy systems. In this fast paced environment, UK manufacturers must make sure they have the right technological foundations in place to remain agile, productive and competitive.

So why are some companies holding back from taking advantage of new technologies? The short answer is, many of the more old school, smaller companies would rather stick to what they know, and are unaware of the simplicity of what is available to them on the market. Tracking activities with an application such as Microsoft Excel can be preferable, as it is perceived as a flexible, standalone solution which people are less afraid to use. On the other hand, enterprise research planning (ERP) technology has a reputation as being tricky to implement and of requiring a lot of resources to get off the ground. Companies which hold this out-dated view are missing out on the true benefits of new solutions. For example, with solutions available today it’s possible to access real-time production information via a mobile app from the production floor for optimum flexibility.

The only way businesses can manage the complexity of supply chain and achieve synchronisation from an R&D phase to delivery is by having 360 degree visibility in real-time of what is happening in each work cell. This visibility not only reduces costs and increases efficiency into workforce and production lines in all sites, it also enables manufacturers to respond quickly to order demands through having an integrated view of the factory. Data can be captured at each stage of the process to analyse productivity, efficiency and profitability of each product line and service, meaning inefficiencies can be spotted and acted upon at the source. By using one system, which is integrated both ways with other systems, changes such as engineering adjustments are immediately visible to the production floor, and have firstly been informed by production floor analytic. This also improves planning capabilities. From a management perspective, this new, modern way of working makes searching for information a thing of the past. Relevant data alerts can be pushed to the right person as soon as it happens and take the appropriate action, whether it is replacing a component, stopping production or looking for an alternative.

Additionally, with production machines automatically connected via standard APIs to the backend, much of the hurdle has to do with the fear that implementation will go beyond budget and timeline. In order to mitigate the risk of a lengthy deployment, companies looking to migrate their current systems to a more streamlined and nuanced system must firstly ensure they choose a partner which has an intrinsic understanding of the manufacturing space, preferably in their domain. Secondly, opting for a cloud-based solution will eliminate the need for having a dedicated IT team to maintain the system. An easy to use system will reduce the workforce ‘fear of change,’ and supporting them with training as well as encouraging mobile solutions will be big steps to getting them on side.

Overcoming these barriers is key to enjoying the benefits of a new, streamlined business, and is crucial to achieving a full and accurate picture of organisation across departments, product lines and regions. With a customer-centric approach, predictive analytics tools can better plan the production, as well as demands and expected problems from a machine level to any potential workforce capacity issue. Manufacturing systems are on an innovative trajectory to a fully mobile and connected operation, where all machines will be able to automatically connect to systems and trigger business processes such as ordering materials or opening a service ticket. In order for manufacturers to benefit from a future promising wearable glasses to guide the work of employees on the production floor, they must harness the power of an innovative, simple to use and integrated system to increase productivity and growth across each aspect of the business.

Andres Richter
Andreas RichterAndres Richter is CEO of Priority Software. Priority Software is an international pioneer in enterprise resource planning (ERP) solutions, including cloud and mobile technology. Priority’s vision is to empower businesses of all sizes with a comprehensive, flexible, and simple business management solution that increases profitability and efficiency.

For more information about Priority Software, visit: www.priority-software.com