Factory Fortnight or not… it’s time to rethink IT
As summer in Europe is quietly passing by and manufacturing companies take time for their annual maintenance shutdown, many companies are also rethinking their approach to IT and Industry 4.0. Traditionally, manufacturing has always been an industry with a strong focus on automation. However, these days it’s not just automation or robotics that are leading innovation initiatives. As Industry 4.0 gains traction, companies spend an increasing amount of their innovation and CAPEX budgets on software aimed at enhancing productivity and efficiency. With this blog we provide an overview of the top-3 IT trends that are reshaping manufacturing operations.

1. Analytics and AI
Everybody is talking analytics and AI these days so one might argue it’s a natural thing for manufacturers to get engaged with as well. But unfortunately it’s not. Before you can even start doing proper analytics, you need to have good quality data and an operational data layer that gathers data from all different systems within an organization. And therein lies the problem, most manufacturing companies have a lot of different systems that don’t talk to each other or exchange data. Data silos are a serious business problem. Factories gather machine data in one place, quality data in another, maintenance and sales data in another — the list goes on. This structure may make sense at a departmental level, but it prevents collaboration necessary to ensure competitiveness. Companies need an operational data layer that is core to business processes and supports data sharing. By combining data from different systems and departments one can create a 360-degree of a company’s operations and better understand and predict customer behavior, production planning and profitability. Manufacturing companies often have many different SKUs, but how does one know which product attributes most to the company’s bottom line? Would you just look at the financials or sales data in your ERP? To make sure you capture the real value add, you’d want to understand how much you spend on marketing for a particular product, the production efficiency (i.e. profit per hour for a particular production line), sales projections, stock turnover and the people involved manufacturing this product. All of this becomes particularly important when a company has thousands of different SKUs and hundreds of production lines across different sites, too often we see situations where companies are just manufacturing whatever they feel is right without taking into account the full picture. Once you have set up your operational data layer you can use AI to predict and anticipate on production, sales and cost patterns. 

2. Mobile collaboration
The majority of manufacturing employees don’t work at a desk or don’t even have a corporate email address. As a result, the bulk of collaboration can’t happen on a desktop device. We all know that technology can have a positive impact on operator productivity, so making technology accessible should be a priority for businesses. Almost anyone has a smartphone these days and most people use social apps such as Facebook and WhatsApp to communicate with friends and family, so why not use a native mobile app to enable your operators to communicate and collaborate with each other? Mobile apps give operators and frontline employees new ways to connect, keeping them informed about what’s happening within an organization. Think about company news such as events, new hires or safety incidents. Oftentimes companies use newsletters and corporate magazines to communicate news or important information, however this is never real-time and it’s tough to monitor how many employees actually read your monthly magazine. Since most employees already have mobile phones with internet connectivity, you may save substantial costs by allowing BYOD (Bring Your Own Device). Internal communications improve efficiency by making peers accessible to one another, but mobile collaboration apps also promote safety awareness and gives your operators a sense of involvement.

3. Digital workflows
Since we launched FactoryHub we have visited a lot of different manufacturing sites and most of them still predominantly work with paper. Lots of paper. Typically, operators work with paper checklists for production monitoring, maintenance programs and work-and safety instructions. However, it happens quite often that a paper checklist is incomplete, it goes missing after a shift hand-over or someone deliberately inputs false information (for example a false time stamp). Paper checklists make production monitoring difficult and mistakes are usually only discovered when it’s already too late. This makes it difficult to trace production errors and it becomes almost impossible to hold your operators accountable for the work they do. So for the number three on our list, we expect a lot from digital workflows. Desk work has become almost entirely digital these days, people don’t want to bring printed materials to meetings anymore as it’s simply not effective. Why would you bring a piece of paper if you can take notes using free software such as Evernote that enables you to access and search your notes from anywhere on any device? Instead of paper just piling up and never being looked at again, we foresee that floor operations will become completely digital in the next couple years. And guess what, swapping paper for digital workflows will not only make life easier and more fun for your operators, it will also enable you to conduct analytics on the data and you can provide a flow of continues feedback that will enhance employee engagement.

 

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