Manufacturing companies are in the midst of a significant transition period, one that some have dubbed the “Fourth Industrial Revolution.” It is characterized by the increased use of digital technologies to fundamentally transform traditional manufacturing processes and gain new efficiencies.
Events of the past year have created a sense of urgency around this transformation. Supply chain disruptions and sharp declines in consumer demand ravaged companies that lacked the flexibility, agility and speed to respond to sudden and dramatic market changes. In response, the manufacturing sector as a whole has dramatically accelerated its digital transformation efforts — in some cases, by several years, according to a recent KPMG study.
There is widespread interest in smart manufacturing initiatives, artificial intelligence, autonomic operations, robotics and freight management systems to optimize operations, increase supply chain visibility, reduce costs, open new markets and increase profitability. In fact, 95 percent of global manufacturing companies agree that digital transformation is essential to their company’s future success, according to the 2021 State of Manufacturing Report from Fictiv.
These are just a few of the technologies that will be essential for industry transformation:
- Artificial Intelligence (AI). New research from Google Cloud finds that almost two-thirds of manufacturers already use AI to assist day-to-day operations, with a quarter allocating half or more of their overall IT spend toward AI. AI technologies are most frequently being used for quality inspection (39 percent), supply chain management (36 percent), risk management (36 percent), product and/or production line quality checks (35 percent) and inventory management (34 percent).
- Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT). IIoT sensors embedded in manufacturing assets support predictive maintenance by tracking the health and performance of machinery in real time. This can reduce unplanned outages and extend machinery life by years. According to PwC, predictive maintenance is proven to reduce costs by 12 percent, improve uptime by 9 percent, extend asset life by 20 percent and reduce health, safety and environmental risks by 14 percent.
- Automation. The industry has long used physical robotics to assemble, package and move products. Manufacturers are now increasingly using software to create robotic-like capabilities behind the scenes. Robotic process automation (RPA) software is integrated with business processes to automate activities such as purchase order processing, order fulfillment, inventory reporting, ordering supplies and creating invoices. Roughly 90 percent of manufacturing executives say RPA saves time on repetitive tasks and reduces costs.
- Cloud Computing. Like virtually all other sectors of the economy, manufacturers are using the cloud to access the applications, data, storage and communications tools they need. According to the Google Cloud study, 83 percent of manufacturers have a cloud strategy. Beyond conventional IT efficiencies, the cloud also enables unique operational benefits for manufacturers. It serves as the enabling technology for IIoT and edge computing strategies that support equipment monitoring and predictive maintenance. It’s also essential for collecting and analyzing the vast amounts of data required to design, build and test new products, and to support forecasting and planning efforts.
- Cybersecurity. As manufacturing operations become more digitally enhanced, they also become more vulnerable to cyberattacks. According to PwC, manufacturing was the most-targeted industry for ransomware in 2020 with 17 percent of all such attacks. Although most manufacturers are required to follow some industry cybersecurity standards, they don’t always have much expertise on staff. The National Institute of Standards and Technology suggests manufacturers work with qualified providers to assess their current risk posture, identify any gaps, and implement solutions to cost-effectively protect data and systems.
Digital transformation can create exciting new operational efficiencies for manufacturing, but it can also introduce some new risks. Contact Technologent for guidance on implementing and managing leading-edge technologies to enhance your operations.