According to a report by McKinsey Global Institute, automation technologies, including interconnected IoT devices and AI solutions may be generating as much as $11.1 trillion a year in economic value by 2025. The report also indicates that between $1.2 to $3.7 million of this amount will be from factory operations management and predictive maintenance. This indicates the massive impact automation will potentially have on the manufacturing industry in the coming years.
Today, manufacturers are embracing technologies such as robotics, artificial intelligence, and the Internet of Things (IoT) to revolutionize their production lines. These technologies have not only revolutionized the way products are made but have also paved the way for a new era of innovation, precision, and flexibility in day-to-day manufacturing business management.
What led to the need for automation in manufacturing business management?
The current wave of automation in the manufacturing industry can be linked to the same factors that inspired the adoption of automated assembly lines and robots in production during the early days of Industry 3.0 – That is, the need to free human workers from dull, repetitive work and improve the quality of products being churned out by production lines while keeping production costs low.
In addition to this, modern manufacturing processes have grown increasingly complex over the years. Getting products from manufacturing plants to final consumers involves several complex processes and intricate supply chains that take place in multiple stages. Automating key processes can simplify and streamline these complex operations, reducing the risk of errors and improving overall efficiency.
Manufacturers are also dealing with a rapidly changing business landscape. There’s increased competition to get products to market and meet the ever-changing demands of consumers. Manufacturers are starting to realize the importance of automation in meeting these market demands quickly and efficiently.
Four ways of implementing automation in manufacturing management
Implementing automation in manufacturing process management can revolutionize operations and unlock significant benefits for manufacturers. The following are four key ways automation can be implemented in manufacturing management, along with specific use cases that show automation in action in these areas:
1. Workflow automation
Workflow automation involves streamlining and automating tasks and activities involved in manufacturing processes. By automating workflows, manufacturers can improve efficiency, reduce manual errors, and enhance overall productivity.
For example, automated production lines have become the staple of modern manufacturing companies. Production lines leverage robots and conveyor systems to automate the movement of materials and products along the assembly line, reducing manual handling, and increasing production speed.
But beyond the manufacturing process itself, automation can also be introduced for other day-to-day workflows involved in factory management, supply chain processes, product monitoring, stock management, and so on. For instance, automated RFID tagging or barcode scanning can help with inventory management.
2. Approval processes
Automation can simplify and expedite approval processes within manufacturing management. By implementing automated approval workflows, manufacturers can ensure decisions are made and passed along quickly. This reduces bottlenecks and delays, enhancing operational efficiency.
For instance, manufacturers can implement digital workflows and rule-based systems that automate the approval of purchase orders. This reduces the manual paperwork involved in getting approvals, enhancing accuracy, and improving procurement efficiency.
3. Customer management automation
Managing customer relationships effectively is a vital aspect of manufacturing business management. Automation can help streamline some of the most important customer management processes to enhance customer service and achieve higher customer satisfaction ratings.
Customer Relationship Management (CRM) systems often have features to automate email notifications, order confirmations, status updates, and other forms of customer communications. This ensures timely and consistent communication with customers throughout the order fulfillment process.
Manufacturers can also implement digital solutions that automatically generate and send invoices to customers based on predefined rules and triggers, reducing manual data entry and enabling faster invoicing. These processes can be integrated with enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems to automate the flow of data, so information can be pulled from other systems seamlessly.
4. Reporting and data analysis
Automation facilitates the collection, analysis, and reporting of data from various manufacturing processes, providing valuable insights for decision-making and continuous improvement.
Implementing sensors and IoT devices to collect data on equipment performance, production rates, and quality metrics is one of the basic ways automation can be directly leveraged in the manufacturing process.
But data analysis and report automation can also be built into other business management processes in between production lines and consumers. For instance, AR reports, inventory analysis, customer credit analysis, and so on are some of the key reports manufacturing business managers have to generate regularly.
Using data analytics tools built into the digital tools you use, it’s possible to automatically generate these reports and come up with visualizations that can make it easier to monitor performance, identify trends, and make data-driven business decisions.
What are the benefits of automation in the internal processes of manufacturing?
Implementing automation in the key internal processes highlighted above comes with a wide range of benefits for manufacturing businesses. It can positively impact efficiency, boost productivity, cost-effectiveness, and overall output in internal manufacturing processes.
Increased efficiency and productivity
Automation reduces or eliminates the need to rely on human effort for mundane tasks. This not only reduces the time spent on these processes but also helps human workers complete these more effectively, leading to increased productivity.
Reduced human error
Manual processes are prone to human errors even in the best of hands. In manufacturing business management, the defects, delays, and reworks that result from human error can be very costly to manage. Automation minimizes human involvement, reducing the risk of errors and enhancing accuracy quite significantly.
Optimal resource utilization
Automation enables better utilization of resources. When you move from paper-based systems to digital automation, you save cost on materials, reduce time, and minimize pressure on equipment. Intelligent systems that help optimize production schedules, manage inventory levels and monitor resource consumption to reduce waste and save costs significantly over time.
Enhanced flexibility and adaptability
Manufacturers that adopt automation are often more agile and flexible compared to those that don’t. Automated systems make it easier to adapt to changing production requirements and adjust to shifting consumer behavior. The flexibility provided by automation allows manufacturers to respond quickly to market demands, introduce new products, or modify existing ones without significant disruptions to their processes.
Data-driven decision making
Automation often goes hand-in-hand with business intelligence. Automated tools generate a wealth of data that can be harnessed through advanced analytics to gain valuable insights into operational performance. This makes it easier to identify bottlenecks and make informed data-driven decisions to drive continuous improvement.
How does automation lead to effective control and continuous improvement?
Perhaps the biggest benefit of automation is that it helps to standardize processes so they’re executed consistently following standardized rules and protocols. Removing variations that are caused by human errors using automated systems makes it easier to achieve reliable outcomes. This standardization also comes with the added benefit of effective control over operations.
Automated systems can be monitored in real-time based on established performance indicators. Any anomalies or deviations can be quickly identified, making it easier to intervene when needed and introduce corrective actions that help maintain quality and efficiency.
Automation also allows for continuous process optimization through iterative improvements. By collecting data on various processes, manufacturers can identify bottlenecks, inefficiencies, or areas of improvement. This data-driven approach helps in fine-tuning processes until there’s an overall increase in efficiency and effectiveness.
In today's dynamic manufacturing landscape, manufacturers must leverage app development platforms that help them achieve higher levels of operational efficiency. Driving ongoing improvement through automation is a must to stay competitive and capture new opportunities as they emerge within the industry.