Fluctuations in demand are putting pressure on you to get products to market more quickly, replace them with new-and-improved versions much more frequently, and reach out to all corners of the world for the supplies that can make all of this happen at the lowest cost possible.
What you may not be aware of is this: your tried-and-true manufacturing processes may not be flexible and scalable enough to let you keep doing business in this new environment.
Manufacturers that cling to the old ways of doing business will continue to struggle with tighter margins, longer lead times, bloated inventories, and higher customer churn. But manufacturers that are willing to look at new ways to be agile are setting themselves up for success—and they’re doing it by becoming a connected manufacturer.
Connected manufacturing is a business strategy that relies on cloud computing, connectivity, and the sharing of operational and business data to drive efficiency, quality, agility, and faster response times.
Connecting Your Shop Floor
Your shop floor is where material moves. It’s where products are created. It’s where the real work gets done.
If you’re trying to optimize shop floor operations, you’ll need access to real-time production information, inventory levels, quality data, and machine data. You’ll also need an easy way to schedule and re-schedule work—and to note changes to orders or production.
These are challenging tasks if you’re still relying on paper-based processes and manual documentation. Printouts can only provide information to the person who’s holding them, and they don’t incorporate insights from other printouts.
When you automate your paper-based, manual processes and consolidate your manufacturing information into one database, you let everyone in your organization access a single set of accurate data. That means more work can get done in less time, and with fewer errors.
Connecting Your Business
Optimizing your shop floor is just one part of remaining competitive in this new era of ever-shifting customer demand. You must also connect your shop floor with the rest of your business, so that your decision-makers can get the data they need to steer your business towards greater profitability.
For example, when you use cloud technology to let your engineering, sales, marketing, and production teams collaborate, you enable everyone to forecast and plan more effectively. And when all of these teams have easy access to aggregated data, they can look at the big picture, spot trends and patterns, and increase their understanding of how customers are using your products—all of which will enable you to stay one step ahead of the next shift in demand.
Once you’ve connected your business, nothing is off-limits in your analysis. You can look at overall enterprise performance, break out individual plant performance, and even drill down to a single production line or machine to make sure you’re getting maximum productivity from every asset.
Connecting Your People
Of course, connected manufacturing isn’t just about keeping tabs on boxes, production lines, and machines. It’s also about getting the most out of your people.
Think about how much experience and savvy there is across all your customers, suppliers, and employees. Now, think about how much your company could benefit by applying this tribal wisdom to every manufacturing process.
When you connect your people, your customers can gain new insights into your operations and provide valuable input into your next product design. Your suppliers can use their real-time view of production to proactively deliver materials without you contacting them first.
Your production workers can pull up an iPhone to gain instant access to production details, rather than wasting hours hunting down information. Meanwhile, managers can open an iPad to get the latest analytics related to their role—and then make informed decisions even when they’re on the road.
And because all of this happens through cloud solutions, it reduces the burden on your IT staff. Technology staff who previously focused on maintaining your infrastructure and installing software can pivot to work as business analysts who understand your operations from the inside out.
Join the Fourth Industrial Revolution
Connected manufacturing isn’t just about helping you do more with less. It’s about providing you with a whole new way of doing business—one that lets you respond to constant changes in customer demand. It’s no exaggeration to say that today’s connected manufacturing technology is driving the Fourth Industrial Revolution.
We get into this and other topics in The Definitive Guide to Connected Manufacturing.