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Welcome to the official Smart Manufacturing Blog. Gain access to the experiences of smart manufacturers that make the world's most awesome products, and insights into cloud-based MES, ERP, Supply Chain Management, Industrial IoT (IIoT), and Analytics solutions.

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Robotic Process Automation (RPA) for Manufacturers Drives Automation

Business Process and Performance Management
June 23, 2020
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With efficiency as an ever-present strategy for modern manufacturers, automation can be a key component to achieving success. Automation reduces strain on resources required for data entry and review, allowing teams to focus on higher value activities, such as re-investments in the company, streamlining the supply chain, or continuous improvement.

It’s not just individual manufacturers who sees the value in what’s known as “hyper-automation” 1 technology. Hyper-automation is a mix of artificial intelligence and automation to supplement a human workforce.

Gartner predicts by 2024, organizations will lower operational costs by 30% by combining hyper-automation technologies with redesigned operational processes. The addition of hyper-automation can initially sound complicated or expensive. That’s where Robotic Process Automation (RPA) comes in. RPA uses virtual “bots” to execute repetitive processes that are often mundane, error-prone or very time consuming. They emulate the actions of a human by navigating the user interface of one or more software applications to complete a business process and can enhance current technologies and systems, such as an ERP or MES.

Innovation

In response to the safety measures and restrictions designed to combat COVID-19, we’ve seen automakers and other manufacturers pivot production to make critical medical supplies as a powerful demonstration of how times of crisis can lead to boons in innovation. We expect to also see inventive ways to get business tasks done with RPA as a powerful problem-solving tool.

Stant Corporation’s implementation of RPA to manage invoice delivery is an example of problem-solving. The process was labor-intensive across multiple technology solutions. With the help of a bot on the Plex Smart Manufacturing Platform, Stant achieved a reduction in their invoice backlog from three weeks to four days, and 100% data entry accuracy. Today, 80% of invoices are able to move to processing without intervention.

Automation

Automation can have a negative perception in the workforce, most notably workforce reduction. But consider this: if a business has the opportunity to lessen the efforts of people doing repetitive tasks, they not only gain high levels of productivity and reduce expensive errors, but they increase job satisfaction as well. It’s about reengaging in new ways, using automation to compliment a human workforce rather than replace it. Bots do have intelligence to interpret data and execute but within a defined workflow. Intellect, however, is something a bot cannot provide.

Cumbersome tasks like intercompany reconciliation, which is critical for the financial health of a business, is particularly time consuming. But automating can relieve employees, improve regulatory compliance, and increase accuracy. That reclaimed time enables employees to focus managing the business.

Extensibility

We believe any new manufacturing technology, even RPA, should be integrated within a business’s system of record. Integrated technology delivers a single source of truth, and as a long-term strategy, prevents the silos of information and resources that often prevent manufacturers from being able to make good business decisions.

That’s why Plex decided to partner with Thirdware and Automation Anywhere to bring RPA to the Plex Smart Manufacturing Platform. It’s not an additional technology – you can simply integrate automation functionality and gain all the benefits.

1 Source: Gartner, “Predicts 2020: RPA Renaissance Driven by Morphing Offerings and Zeal for Operationa Excellence,” Stephanie Stoudt-Hansen, et al, 10 December 2019

About the Author

Jerry Foster Chief Technology Officer, Plex Systems

Jerry Foster is CTO and leads our technology strategy, along with research and design initiatives focused on next-generation cloud solutions for the manufacturing enterprise. A founding member of the Plex team, Jerry has been instrumental in the entire evolution of Plex, overseeing the technical transitions in each phase of our growth. Jerry earned his degree in Computer Science at Liberty University.

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