Smarter Culture + Smarter Technology = Smarter Manufacturing

As technology enhances and most systems are becoming increasingly digitized and streamlined, many sectors are having to make changes to keep up with industry trends.

You may be one of those who’ve stayed with your manufacturing processes, deciding in uncertain times it’s the best path. After all, the processes have been fine-tuned over a hundred or more years to achieve repeatability, part durability, efficient workflows and low operational costs.

While there is an advantage to maintaining this continuity – “consistency is speed”, traditional processes are also challenged by high labor costs, errors leading to less than desired time-to-market, significant up-front production costs in the form of tooling and assembly costs.

With many manufacturers facing new marketplace demands for increased speed and agility, Smart Manufacturing gives an opportunity to transform manufacturing workflows, reduce supply chain issues and deliver a new competitive advantage.

Smart Factory

Smart factories are quickly becoming one of the main solutions to this as they offer increased automation for manufacturers and put organizations in a good place when it comes to increasing productivity, staying ahead of competitors and keeping up with customer demands.

However, making the jump from a traditional factory, to a high-tech smart factory may not seem financially practical for businesses now trying to make their way through inflationary uncertainty. But, with a few internal changes, a license subscription or two and a rapid/agile implementation approach, your ROI is surprisingly fast.

Introducing a combination of digital technologies into factories, warehouses and production environments such as artificial intelligence and automation provide a range of benefits, such as increased process efficiency, product quality, sustainability and decreased costs. So, just how can small businesses utilize certain technologies and digital systems to stay ahead of the game when it comes to updating current systems and implementing a smart factory?

Although updating technology and investing in new systems seems quite daunting and involves some quite hefty upfront costs, the benefits discussed earlier, such as increased productivity and process efficiency alone are worth considering the transition to a smart factory.

Target business priorities (your pain points) 1st

SMBs should initially consider business priorities rather than focusing on updating and digitalizing all systems in one go.

It will be simpler, as well as more cost effective to focus on each business goal and update and enhance technology in a manner that makes sense to your business. Below are five main business goals in which SMEs can use smart factory integrations to enhance their operations.

it starts & ends with your culture!

But 1st it starts with changing your culture:

  • for one, be prepared to try new ways,
  • be prepared to move at speed, rather than perfection,
  • be prepared to try new ways and not afraid to “break few eggs along the way to make an omelette!”

Executives must make a concerted effort to train and engage their employees to have new ways & new technology take off.

This means investing time, budgets and energy in making sure to get it right — recognizing where the new job opportunities will be and what type of retraining is necessary.

But it also means that employees need to understand their evolved roles and, of course, be flexible to the changes associated with Industry 4.0.

Changing the Organizational Culture

Technology can benefit any company, but only when used correctly. It needs to address current limitations and challenges faced, such as an inefficient plant, supply chain or engineering process, but in the case, we can’t expect to introduce technology onto the factory floor and expect operations to instantly improve.

The shift to Industry 4.0 technologies and applications requires a change in organizational culture and a change in operational rules.

It’s important to remember that the rules that were in place before Industry 4.0 were designed to adapt to the limitations and challenges. With smart devices, smarter technologies and applications now restructuring the work process, executives have to rethink the flow of operations and the behaviors in ensuring the manufacturing process continues to be completed in an efficient manner.

The 1st change

The first change in organizational culture comes through changing employee behaviors.

The tasks, habits and repetitions of job duties in pre-Industry 4.0 won’t work in the current Industry 4.0 environment.

What was once an automatic reaction to a task now must be restructured for a new process.

Employees need to be re-skilled on how smart technology will change the task and then they need the chance to practice it until the repetition becomes the new natural. Think of learning how to use a new computer OS – the time it takes to learn the nuances of the device and the “muscle memory” / the repetition to make using it natural.

Industry 4.0 demands a learning curve.

The 2nd change

in organizational culture is a shift in job responsibilities and needs.

There will be a need for new positions such as

  • data scientists
  • process engineers
  • design engineers,

but current employees may be asked to learn new skills such as networking to keep the systems operational or to have basic cybersecurity training to recognize where potential threats are and how to prevent them.

There will be a far greater need for employees skilled in maintenance of smart devices and electronics, both in management and in hands on electrical and industrial controls.

A 3rd change

in organizational culture will likely be more subtle but still necessary – the reliance on industrial service providers that handle cloud computing and data management. A new breed of providers is emerging that needs to be understood and accommodated.

It’s expected that manufacturing will continue to invest billions Industry 4.0 to stay competitive, with a 1 billion devices and sensors installed. Factory executives expect this adoption of Industry 4.0 will result in a profitable ROI, with improved productivity and less waste.

But this is only possible if executives recognize the employee impact of Industry 4.0 and how the skills and training of current staff and overall organization culture need to shift for it all to work at the highest efficiency.

Even with a dynamic workforce and the best of technology, are you ready to make the transition?

Goals – the “low hanging fruit”

Below are five main business goals in which SMEs can use smart factory integrations to enhance their operations:

1. Enhanced resource planning

A main priority for many businesses is enhancing its ability to manage resources, and connected factories have the ability to track the location of labour, materials, machines, and moveable assets in real time. If offering greater visibility across your business to ensure the right volume of materials are in stock or on order at any given time, then investing in resource planning system should be your first step in transitioning to a smart factory.

There are many software solutions out there that help with aspects such as resource and material requirement planning and are an ideal place for most companies to start making to transition – particularly SMEs.

2. Compliance and traceability

Traceability eliminates unforeseen issues and saves time and money and for businesses without dedicated tools and processes in place, dealing with traceability queries can soon become time-consuming.

In some cases, the inability to show evidence of origin or use can quickly escalate into a more pressing business issue. Having the ability to track forward and back with certainty is very important, especially as manufacturers are facing increasing pressure to prove that the materials they produce meet a range of quality standards and are ethically sourced.

Traceability extends far past being concerned with goods in, goods out and how something is made because technology has brought consumers far more power than ever before. Because of this, investing in a supply chain and traceability focused software solution should definitely be considered.

3. Optimized processes

Managers have to make sense of all information which is fed into systems from all arms of an organization, which can be a very time consuming process. Business intelligence dashboards have the ability to consolidate the data and provide greater oversight so is an option worth exploring if your business goals compromise optimizing processes.

This kind of software solution helps in identifying areas of improvement, such as removing production bottlenecks and supports in processing orders more efficiently in comparison to the conventional way. This is done using scheduling and planning systems to identify the impact of schedule changes and planning different scenarios; answering the ‘what if’ questions, or ‘can we take on this rush order?

4. Increased productivity in back-office functions

Back-office functions are often a last thought, especially when c-suite are dedicated to and passionate about perfecting a product or service, but the importance of streamlining admin work should not be overlooked. It might seem more worthwhile to invest in machinery that increases current production, but a digital system that will automate time-consuming admin tasks such as searching for information, data or documents and verifying that data, chasing people for review and sign off and other tasks such as time sheets is also very beneficial.

As well as taking up a lot of time, these avoidable tasks also mean that mistakes happen, human errors occur and products are delivered late as staff are often time pressured. Investing in a cloud based software solution can ensure a more efficient approach, allowing workers to spend more time on their core tasks.

5. Increased sales through stronger customer relationships

For those whose main priority is increasing sales through a stronger customer base, integrating a customer relationship management (CRM) system with an ERP allows manufacturers to identify sales trends and anticipate orders, liaise with clients as well as ensure forecast demand is able to be fulfilled. Software solutions which incorporate the technology from Industry 4.0 will allow more accurate and open communications, helping businesses to build and maintain rapport with their clients.

A digital system will also allow people within the business to collaborate on projects online meaning you can automatically notify customers on the progress of their orders.