What is your manufacturing model? Is it mass production or digital manufacturing? Most manufacturers will say they’re trying to move to digital manufacturing, but are they prepared to realize the full benefits of their digital strategies?
Digitizing every phase of your supply chain is only half the battle. Digital manufacturing also entails integration of disparate systems, processes and machines. Integration enables real-time decision making based on real-time data. Digital manufacturing isn’t just about automating processes; it’s about using intelligence from multiple technologies to optimize processes and improve product design.
How to Realize the Benefits of Digital Manufacturing
Even if you already have all of the manufacturing technology you think you need, it never hurts to reevaluate your current state:
- Define a Digital Strategy – Your digital strategy should be aligned with your organizational vision. What technology do you currently have, and what technology should you implement to achieve your goals? More importantly, how will you integrate this technology?
- Develop a Business Case – You should set ambitious but realistic KPIs and continually monitor your progress.
- Obtain Executive Buy-in – We’ve included this in several blogs. It will probably be in every blog. That’s how important it is. Not only do you need executive support, but you need a core team with stakeholders from each functional area.
- Streamline Your Processes – You should begin business process management before selecting technology. Inefficient processes cannot be fixed with technology alone.
- Prove Value – Use proof of concepts to demonstrate the value of digital manufacturing. Early wins show employees how they can benefit from upcoming changes.
- Communicate – Even with a proof of value, employees may still worry about being replaced by a robot. You should remind them that digital manufacturing will free them to focus on more important tasks.
- Develop Essential Skillsets – You will need digital skills, such as big data analytics, automation, cybersecurity and mechatronics.
- Define a Business Intelligence Strategy – Who will be responsible for analyzing and acting on business intelligence from the factory floor? What processes will you need to implement to streamline decision making?
Finding an ERP System to Support Digital Manufacturing
While ERP software isn’t the only technology you need for modernizing your manufacturing processes, it often is the backbone of the full suite of technologies that gather, store and analyze your data.
Many ERP software vendors have been quick to respond to the evolving needs of manufacturers. They’ve committed to building capabilities such as IoT, machine learning, artificial intelligence, big data and blockchain directly into their cloud offerings. Other vendors use API to connect to external applications.
IoT is an essential component to integrate into your ERP system as it gathers sensor data from the supply chain and provides actionable analytics on design issues, lead time, maintenance needs, inventory levels, energy consumption and even the customer experience. Housed in the ERP system, these analytics can be reviewed by supervisors and communicated to decision makers on the shop floor.
When evaluating ERP systems, you should assess their ability to aggregate data from key areas of your supply chain.
Is Digital Manufacturing Improving Your Operations?
So, you’ve selected an ERP system and integrated it with advanced manufacturing technologies. What benefits should you expect? Here’s a partial list:
Here’s a bit more detail on a few of these benefits:
- Easier Consumer Product Customization – Whether you’re selling directly to consumers or to other businesses, you need to be flexible and responsive. Customer needs constantly change, and they expect quick response times. Five years ago, it wasn’t economically viable to produce smaller quantities of customized products. Now, this is faster and cheaper thanks to 3D printing and digital collaboration with contract manufacturers. Mass customization is also more feasible with today’s technologies.
- Better Decision Making – The masses of data contained in ERP systems become manageable when integrated with digital manufacturing technology. IoT brings actionable data to the forefront and alerts managers in real time. Smart machines can also alert managers of impending maintenance needs.
- Continuous Innovation – The same data that improves real-time decision making can be used to drive continuous innovation. Customer experience data helps product managers design better products. Product managers can also rely on artificial intelligence to determine what factors improve production quality.
Who’s Adopting Manufacturing Technologies?
Few manufacturers have implemented all of the technologies mentioned in this article, and even fewer have done so successfully. While fully digitizing and integrating your supply chain seems like an ambitious endeavor, manufacturers who move first will realize benefits unachievable for slower moving competitors.
If you’re evaluating manufacturing technology, you may enjoy our on-demand webinar, Seven Tips for a Less Stressful ERP Selection.