Digital automation in the manufacturing sector
Like many sectors, manufacturing is facing challenges on a host of different fronts, be they human, industrial or environmental. With climate change front and centre of the global conversation, and manufacturing making a significant contribution to CO2 emissions, there is substantial pressure on companies in this sector to find greener ways of operating. Naturally, companies want to do so without compromising their output or their profitability, but a number of issues elsewhere are making this increasingly difficult to achieve. In particular, the Great Resignation witnessed in many developed countries post-pandemic has exacerbated the existing human skills shortage. Many older workers in the industry have retired in search of a better work/life balance, while not enough younger adults are training or looking at careers in the sector. At the same time, customers expect better-quality products and service experiences than ever before, despite the long lead times often caused by disruption to stock availability and the supply chain as a whole.
What is causing these challenges?
All of the above issues are being influenced or exacerbated by a number of factors, many of which are beyond the control of individual companies within the sector:
- Net-Zero: increasing regulations connected to climate change are requiring manufacturers to use more renewable energy, recycle more and dispose of waste properly, even if it becomes more expensive and time-consuming to do so
- COVID-19: the lingering knock-on effects of the pandemic have led to widespread disruption in supply chains, leading to a slow-down in production; the changing priorities of people post-pandemic have also affected the availability of skilled labour
- Geopolitical issues: Brexit, the cost of living crisis and the war in Ukraine have placed further financial and operational pressures on manufacturers
Many of the above issues can be mitigated (at least in part) by automation. While manufacturing as a whole has generally been keen to explore the potential of automation, the current challenges mean that now is the time to maximise that potential.
Introducing Enterprise Service Management (ESM) for manufacturing
One area of automation that is ideal for manufacturing businesses to exploit is Enterprise Service Management (ESM), which combines human and automated processes to make operations and service delivery as streamlined and productive as possible. It borrows some of the key principles of IT service management to make core processes as quick, easy and reliable to execute as possible. Manufacturing has so many different processes involved that the possibilities for implementing or expanding automation through ESM are many. For example, if one facility needs to produce several different products, repetitive tasks that are common across multiple products can be automated to speed up the process and free up skilled human resource.
Benefits for ESM for manufacturers
When a manufacturer deploys ESM in the right places, automation has the power to revolutionise their operations and profitability. The possible benefits include:
- Stronger sustainability: automation can reduce computing energy, automate and streamline supply chain operations, and digitise traditionally paper-heavy purchase orders and invoice processes
- Optimised stock and supply chain management: increased connectivity can improve transparency and easy management across the entire supply chain, from raw materials to delivery and everything in between, including automated stock re-ordering
- Closing the skills gap: leaving automation to take care of repetitive, time-consuming tasks like stock processing, product assembly and inventory management can save time for staff to apply their skills where they’re most needed
- Improved output quality: keep orders on schedule and decrease the variation across large-scale projects, so that production is maintained at a consistently high level
- Improved output quantity: automation enables more viable 24-hour manufacturing operations, so that output can be maximised without needing to over-invest in additional staff
Prime use cases for digital automation
Manufacturing is such a broad sector that specific use cases will vary enormously. However, these five use cases are likely to be applicable for most manufacturing companies:
- Parts and stock order management: ensure production lines never run out of parts by enabling automatic ordering when inventory drops to a certain level
- Predictive machinery maintenance: detect upcoming machine failures and schedule in maintenance before problems impact production
- Quality control of deliverables: use automated QA processes to apply the same rigour to the testing of every single product
- Invoice processing: cut human errors out of the creation, checking and processing of supplier invoices
- Customer information: give warehouses and customers up-to-date notifications about production and delivery progress
There are so many challenges facing manufacturers at present that there is no single ‘smoking gun’ solution to them all. But as this blog demonstrates, it’s clear that automation – and ESM in particular – has the power to address some of them, and at least reduce the impact of some of the others. To achieve this, however, ESM must be applied in the right way for the specific needs of the business, something that an experienced third-party provider can help with. When you partner with SCC, you get the benefit of years of experience in helping manufacturers like you exploit all of the potential of digital automation. Take a look at what we do and how we do it here.