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When you look at the future of your company, what do you hope to achieve?
For 1,353 global manufacturers in the 2023 State of Smart Manufacturing Report, the answer is clear: growth. And to achieve that growth, these manufacturers are prioritizing their quality strategy as they continue to digitize operations and fight to overcome disrupted supply chains, new regulations, and other challenges.
Clearly, quality is everything to manufacturers — its effects can be felt across the enterprise. Lapses in quality, even if they aren’t highly visible initially, can come to light with alarming speed and have a far-reaching impact. Keeping a close eye on quality helps gauge a company’s overall health.
Compared to last year, 40% more manufacturers say they lack the ability to use data to make decisions, which underscores a technology problem. Quality measurements require information derived from digital data that comes from smart manufacturing technology. So, it’s no surprise that companies that struggle with quality also tend to lag behind with technology adoption. The range of smart manufacturing systems and platforms available today can compound the problem. With so many options to consider, companies often suffer from “technology paralysis” — indecision about where to begin and which solution to choose.
Technology decisions get much easier, however, when companies make the connection that adopting technology is a highly effective means for improving quality. In fact, this year’s survey respondents tell us that quality is the number one accelerant for digital transformation. It’s also the number one outcome from smart manufacturing adoption.
Empowered by technology, manufacturers enhance quality as they increase accuracy and control. This results in sought-after benefits such as reducing errors inherent to manual data entry, increasing control of and centralizing documents, and generating real-time data from people and machines. And that’s just the beginning.
The State of Smart Manufacturing report also found that with this increasing reliance on digital data, the shift to cloud continues. When asked which technology investment yielded the biggest return over the last 12 months, cloud/SaaS was second only to process automation. After all, information that had previously only been available in the form of hand-delivered paper checksheets and process documents buried in binders evolves into digitized data that is accessible and actionable in real time, and that evolution is unlocked by cloud technology.
Manufacturers are also seeing cloud as crucial to risk mitigation. They are making the move to cloud operations for data backup, business continuity, eliminating data and communication silos, and added cybersecurity protection.
Additionally, respondents indicated that cloud momentum will be ongoing as manufacturers reap its benefits such as adaptability, security, speed to deployment, ROI, and cost. Over the next 12 months, almost half (44%) of manufacturers plan to increase investment in cloud technology, applications, or infrastructure.
The data generated by smart manufacturing technology enables a broader view of today’s complex and dynamic manufacturing environment. Modern “quality” encompasses more than just the literal end product. Using the data from smart manufacturing solutions to boost quality also leads to improvements in many other areas of the organization, from profitability to sustainability to workforce.
When a manufacturer’s quality strategy is backed by the right technology, three key benefits emerge:
The number one internal obstacle manufacturers face in 2023 is balancing profitable growth and quality, but there is something they can do about it. Better data leads to more thorough and timely analysis for improved performance. Having fewer errors means having less unplanned downtime to fix mistakes. And, of course, time is money. Disruptions cause delays, and delays reduce profitability. Ultimately, quality backed by technology can scale with the growth of the organization and help drive margin through reduction in error.
Sustainability and environmental, social, and governance (ESG) practices have moved into the spotlight in recent years. According to the State of Smart Manufacturing Report, 95% of respondents have ESG policies or programs at their companies, whether formal or informal. Respondents also said that product quality or safety is the most important element in ESG and sustainability programs, followed by reducing manufacturing waste and recycling. As ESG reporting requirements elevate the need for digitization, those digital systems can also be used to drive process improvements. As efficiencies improve, manufacturers are seeing their quality improve with it.
Adopting new technology results in growth and training needs — and opportunities — for employees. Manufacturers who offer empowered positions and tech-focused tools to their employees have the competitive edge when it comes to attracting and retaining a modern workforce. Timely and accurate digital data can easily be shared and used collaboratively, and it lays the foundation for building a culture of quality in which all employees have a trusted role. Knowledge is power. Better data provides a more holistic view of quality, enabling deeper employee engagement in continuous analysis and improvement. It’s why 89% of manufacturers expect to grow or at least maintain employment as a result of technology adoption.
Modern, successful manufacturing calls for a prioritized focus on quality, and it’s this push for higher quality that has 45% of manufacturers feeling the need to accelerate digital transformation in their organizations. Day in and day out, from profitability to culture, key areas of any enterprise share a connection to quality.
For more survey results and a closer look at how manufacturers are using technology to support quality initiatives and more, read the complete 2023 State of Smart Manufacturing report.