Manufacturing processes continue to evolve thanks to technology. Automated production systems and integrated business processes make manufacturing more efficient, more cost-effective, and more agile. No matter what the industry or the products, technology is powering new manufacturing processes and the business and supply chain activity behind manufacturing success.
McKinsey reports that globally, manufacturing makes up about 16 percent of gross domestic products (GDP) and 14 percent of overall employment. However, as manufacturing continues to mature, manufacturing services are growing at an even faster rate. Everything from logistics to advertising takes up an increasing amount of manufacturing expenses, including information technology support. For every dollar spent on manufacturing in the United States, 19 cents go into service, and in some industries more than half of employees fulfill a service role.
Improving manufacturing productivity is about working smarter, not harder, and harnessing information technology is a means to develop smarter, more efficient automated processes.
Automating ProductionFor many companies, advanced manufacturing is defined by the decreasing cost of labor. That doesn’t mean moving operations offshore to take advantage of lower wages but finding new ways to increase productivity without adding personnel. Technology is driving much of this innovation by enabling cyber-physical systems (CPS) and using dynamic data processing to power smart machines.
Using the latest information technology to power automation and CPS keeps manufacturers agile. To increase flexibility and give manufacturers more control over operations, more companies are using secure, cloud-based services to handle data processing for smart machines. The cloud has the advantage of providing scalability and flexibility with little startup costs. Using cloud computing services also minimizes the need to stop production in order to retool or upgrade production software.
Centralizing automation using networking technology is an essential part of automation. It’s important to not only have a single console that provides a window into operations, centralizing automation control also provides performance statistics and operational data to highlight choke points and weaknesses in production, and identify ways to improve efficiency even more.
Product DevelopmentComputing technology also is an essential part of product development. Technology powers innovation in a variety of ways.
Technology is integral to the engineering phase for a new product, where the designers or scientists develop and test product designs using computer modeling and CAD/CAM software. However, designing and developing the product is only part of product development. You also have to do market analysis to assess market demand, test the market for acceptance and to refine the product, determine competitive pricing, perform a cost analysis for manufacture, and more.
Complex computing strategies and analytics can be invaluable in product development. For example, big data techniques can be used to bring together disparate data sources and variables, such as materials cost, manufacturing cost, supply chain overhead, customer sentiment, competitive pricing, and so forth, and analyze them to reveal trends. The beauty of big data is that you can integrate both structured information, such as database or sales records, with unstructured data, such as call center reports, email, or social media conversations, to find insights.
To power product development and analytics such as big data you need extensible computing resources. Big data analysis, for example, can require terabytes of data storage to handle multiple data sources, and it may require additional computing resources. Cloud computing is elastic so you can add data storage and computing power as needed, using virtualization and other strategies to extend data center capacity.
Process ManagementManufacturing Process Management (MPM) also relies on enterprise technology to ramp production, shorten time to market, control costs, and support consistent quality. MPM integrates engineering and production, using digital information from engineering, considering plant capabilities and capacity, products from external suppliers, and ultimately delivers the manufacturing plans for the product.
MPM processes also have to communicate with other resources such as Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP), logistics tracking, billing, etc. as well as bills of materials and work instructions. Cloud-based services deliver maximum flexibility and make it easier to integrate disparate processes. For example, for accurate manufacturing process definitions, manufacturing engineers have to be able to directly reuse engineering data, such as parts specifications, 3D mockups, and manufacturing requirements. When you have a widespread operation or are dealing with remote suppliers, using cloud-based services for collaboration and to share data is extremely efficient.
Business ManagementOf course, there are also business processes that need to be automated to effectively manage the manufacturing operations. Accounting, payroll, procurement, and other operational processes should all be connected to the same infrastructure to improve efficiency. The more manual processes you can automate, the more seamless and reliable operations become.
Integrating manufacturing and business functions through the ERP system gives you centralize control over the entire operation. For example, bringing together product design, bills of materials, the supply chain, manufacturing, and accounting systems gives you end-do-end control over production costs. For example, a change in product design will impact profits, but with an integrated, automated system you can perform “what if” scenarios to assess the change has on production.
Using cloud services to integrate business operations also can cut overhead and improve cash flow. Using an online billing system, for example, simplifies supplier transactions making it simpler to place orders, track shipments, and send and receive payments without generating paper.
The more networking technology you can apply to manufacturing, the more efficient operations become. Integrating manufacturing processes gives companies more control over every aspect of production, and provides the data for sophisticated analytics to further improve operations. What’s more, harnessing cloud services to manage the enterprise makes it easier to store, analyze, and share operational data.
What are some other ways that technology is solving current advanced manufacturing processes?