Since 2020 and the global pandemic the manufacturing world has changed dramatically in terms of strategy, technology and methodology. This has meant much of the manufacturing industry has moved into the ‘work smarter’ rather than ‘work harder’ space as well as focusing on sustainability, cost reductions, safety and efficiency. However, technology moves fast and it’s important for manufacturers to keep up with innovations in order to remain relevant within the industry.
The dangers of not adopting digitalisation and automation within the manufacturing plant can result in poor productivity, obsolete equipment and unproductive staff putting you behind the competition.
Effective digitalisation focuses on introducing the most appropriate digital technology into all aspects of the industry with a goal of improving and streamlining the overall operations processes.
Obviously introducing such methods across the business in one go can be expensive, with downtime and therefore potential loss of revenue but it doesn’t have to be done this way. It can be carried out piecemeal starting with the most inefficient aspect of the process and working on from there. If done correctly with forward planning it can result in improvements in safety, quality, staff productivity, and sustainability and all whilst saving money through process efficiencies.
Applications of Digitalisation
There is more to digitalisation than simply storing documents in the cloud and automating some aspects of the manufacturing process. Effective digitalisation can have a major impact on your entire business, improving productivity as well as saving money. There are many aspects of the manufacturing process which can benefit from digitalisation including:
- Industrial Internet of Things Sensors – These sensors monitor manufacturing processes, equipment performance, temperature and gas levels which can be useful for managing inventory, monitoring environmental conditions and for reducing energy consumption.
- Data Analytics – Collecting data is particularly useful but only if that data is analysed and the findings used to gauge the market and generate improvement.
- AI and Automation – Many manufacturing plants are using AI and automation as a means of streamlining their processes making them safer, more productive and more efficient with improved sustainability and productivity. Using automation devices for some of the more repetitive tasks can also ensure that the skills within the workforce are diverted to where they will have the biggest impact.
- Software – A cloud-based enterprise resource planning (ERP) system can ensure data is stored in the cloud meaning that it is easier for staff to collaborate on projects regardless of location. ERP systems can also be used to manage inventory, production, customer relations and customer buying habits all in real-time.
- Smart Manufacturing – This is where digital technology and automation are used to connect different manufacturing devices and equipment, allowing them to communicate and gather operations data. This is particularly useful for quality control and supply chain management and can result in better inventory management, faster problem resolutions and reduced costs.
- Predictive Maintenance – Using digitalisation to monitor equipment for signs of wear and to make adjustments to the running processes allows for predictive maintenance planning, reducing downtime and saving money by preventing a piece of equipment from breaking down. Predictive maintenance ensures that the equipment is always running to capacity.
- Augmented and Digital Reality – Both systems have been adopted in the manufacturing industry for training purposes by creating an augmented reality demonstrating how to carry out a particular task or allowing staff to ‘train’ in a virtual space.
Of course, the applications of digitalisation spread throughout the business and it is likely that in every department there will be a means of improving efficiency.
Benefits of Digitalisation
The benefits of digitalisation can be vast and cover the entire manufacturing operation with improved data collection and analytics enabling decisions to be made which will improve the whole process.
- Safety – With streamlined operations systems, updated machinery and efficiency improvements there will be a reduction in staff injuries and accidents.
- Connectivity – An increase in the Internet of Things has led to many manufacturers realising that ensuring their business is digitally connected can improve operations, inventory management, employee relationships, equipment maintenance and customer satisfaction.
- Communication – Digitisation and streamlined workflows often sit side by side with better communication between staff, employees and departments regardless of location. Digital transformation can also mean the gathering of valuable data which can be used to generate decisions, as well as predictive improvements to future processes and products.
- Smart Technology – This has led to the automation of many manufacturing plants with the use of AI, robotics and digital printing. This utilisation of smart technology has reduced human error and injury as well as creating smoother processes, improved quality and increasing production.
- Operations Management – Automation and digitalisation has made operations management more effective by reducing waste, optimising efficiency through streamlining processes, improving quality as well as monitoring and adapting to real-time data.
- Sustainability – Smart digitalisation can result in a reduction in reworking of products, and therefore repairs, which reduces energy, time and money spent. This streamlining of processes can therefore help to minimise waste, repurpose materials and run the machinery more efficiently, therefore, helping the business become more sustainable.
There are of course some challenges with digitalisation and this can be a daunting process to start. It is important to invest in the right technology, not only to keep up with the competition in a highly competitive market but also to ensure the investment in your own organisation is maximised.
It is also important to be able to manage the change, to implement it at a speed that enables the staff to be trained effectively, and in a way which won’t affect your manufacturing during the transition.
With automation and digitalisation resulting in streamlining, there will need to be an acceptance of the technology. Humans have incredible cognitive abilities but don’t perform particularly well at tedious, repetitive and monotone tasks which is what digitalisation is going to remove from jobs, meaning less recurring tasks that slow the work day down. Therefore, digitisation will support human workers, but it is definitely a transition. It will be safer, more fun and more efficient – but it also means, that people will need to “allow” and acknowledge the strong points of digital and AI-powered helpers.
Here at Parvalux, we have been going through a digitalisation programme which has introduced the 6S lean manufacturing system (you can read more about it here) as well as developing an app which will ultimately save the business £50,000 in lost efficiencies.
We are particularly excited about the changes which are going ahead as not only will they improve the efficiency of our manufacturing plant, but also our product quality and customer experience. It will be an exciting and innovating time to be working with Parvalux.