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7th Annual State of Smart Manufacturing

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May 7, 2024

Leadership within a complex operational structure has never been easy. Now, new pressures are making this level of responsibility even more challenging.

One of the forces in play is an unprecedented level of global disruption. From COVID to supply chain issues to rising energy costs, manufacturing operations leaders must navigate new hurdles and bottlenecks to ensure on-time delivery and extract greater efficiencies. Then there are changing workplace dynamics to consider, notably unprecedented and widespread labor shortages.

Assessing the Challenges

Before we can solve roadblocks, we must first understand some of the new headaches these factors create for operations leaders:

  • On-Time Delivery – In an age of increasing customer sophistication and evolving preferences, manufacturers must learn to pivot quickly and produce smaller lots more efficiently. Those who don’t risk sacrificing consumer confidence and seeing their profits eroded.
  • Manual Processes – Although technology-driven solutions abound, a surprising number of manufacturers still have significant manual processes within their operations. These legacy systems may be paper-based spreadsheets or workarounds for standalone software. Many are plagued by interoperability issues, resulting in fragmented processes and controls.
  • Siloed Systems – The shortcomings of manual processes are magnified by still-siloed production systems. While counterintuitive, it is not uncommon for different departments to utilize different terminology, reporting and analysis, and even units of measurement for the same process. This creates error-prone and time-lagged analysis that hampers effective decision-making.
  • Quality Concerns – Biased data, omissions, and error-prone systems inevitably lead to quality fallout. The manual nature of these processes means data aggregation and analysis are slow and the results unreliable. As a result, the focus ends up being more on quality control and less on quality assurance.
  • Inventory Accuracy – In this environment, inventory inaccuracies can also creep in. With standalone legacy systems, excess inventory ties up operating capital, and there isn’t always the right part for the right demand. This can impact on-time delivery and increase costs due to expedited or rushed production. It can also lead to increased quality failures.

Quantifying the Impact

Statistics from the 9th Annual State of Smart Manufacturing Report confirm that obstacles are rife in today’s manual manufacturing operations. Overcoming the industry’s challenges are spurring companies to innovate, with 42% increasing automation and 37% introducing AI/ML technologies to beat roadblocks.

Without innovation, poor operational effectiveness results in an increased chance of equipment failures, including increased or chronic downtime and negative overall equipment effectiveness (OEE). These factors and more are driving manufacturers to accelerate digital transformation, with the result that technology investment in the industry is up 30% over last year.

How Data-Driven Process Automation Helps Leaders Clear Operations Hurdles

The path to success lies in increasing visibility across the organization and harnessing data for more informed decision-making. Fortunately, technology that drives real-time data and analysis through process automation is here to help.

A smart manufacturing system breaks down the silos present in traditional manufacturing operations. It drives an automated, accurate, and real-time flow of data that links all business processes together under a single version of the truth.

Smart manufacturing software and technology also usher in the age of the connected worker by eliminating manual processes and the errors and data bias that come with them. Because everyone has access to machine, operator, and process data, analytics are accurate and relevant to the moment.

Quality becomes part of the process instead of a standalone operation. The same data that monitors and automates production volume and tasks allows process automation of quality protocols, allowing for automatic correction or fast action and mitigation by staff when required. As a result, quality losses are significantly reduced.

The same is true for inventory accuracy. Inventory is now tied to demand and production at a level never before possible. It becomes a data-driven link between production processes and a fully visible supply chain, allowing operations leaders to use data-driven decision-making to manage the disruptions previously discussed.

The result is higher quality, greater equipment and labor utilization, and superior operational resilience that ensures the on-time delivery required to remain competitive.

The Future of Manufacturing Operations

The challenges facing manufacturing operations are complex and multifaceted. Leaders who embrace data-driven solutions that eliminate manual processes and provide a platform for real-time data and analytics will be the ones who clear these obstacles and successfully drive growth.

For more on how data and technology can boost your leadership capabilities and drive value for your business, read this related article.

About the Author

Plex Team

Plex Systems, Inc., a Rockwell Automation company, is the leader in cloud-delivered smart manufacturing solutions, empowering the world’s manufacturers to make awesome products. Our platform gives manufacturers the ability to connect, automate, track and analyze every aspect of their business to drive transformation. The Plex Smart Manufacturing Platform includes solutions for manufacturing execution (MES), ERP, quality, supply chain planning and management, Industrial IoT and analytics to connect people, systems, machines, and supply chains, enabling them to lead with precision, efficiency and agility.