The digital revolution is in full swing. New technologies, including artificial intelligence, the Internet of Things, and augmented reality, are boosting the capabilities of the manufacturers that embrace them.
These new opportunities come at a time when manufacturers are facing significant challenges. Trade wars, protectionism and political and economic uncertainty (such as Brexit) put a priority on increasing efficiency and reducing costs. Meanwhile, the large benefits conferred by these new technologies are enabling first-movers to put slower adopters under significant pressure.
These challenges put your business at risk, but there’s also an opportunity for growth. A reduction in costs from a few years ago means that many of these new technologies are now affordable even for smaller manufacturers, yet many businesses still haven’t invested in upgrading their systems and processes.
This presents a significant opportunity for your business. By investing resources now, you can implement these new technologies quicker and better than competitors who have yet to move forward on digital transformation. Standing still isn’t an option; your business must transform or get left behind.
Choosing Digital Transformation
To achieve digital transformation, you are going to need to evolve your processes, strategies and teams in order to take advantage of new and emerging digital technologies.
You might want to consider:
1. Internet of Things
The Internet of Things, or IoT, is a system of connected devices that can collect and share environmental information. These devices include sensors, wearable technology, and handheld devices. By collecting more data, manufacturers can spot new opportunities for improvements in efficiency.
Applications include monitoring and maximizing the efficiency of production lines, managing inventories, and improving quality control. A successful implementation will improve efficiency, reduce costs, and give you greater insights into how your business works.
2. Augmented Reality
Most of your workforce don’t sit at a desk, but that doesn’t mean they can’t take advantage of the latest technology. Augmented Reality (AR) enables users to view digital content while going about their normal tasks. This is normally achieved using either a mobile device, or wearable AR technology, such as AR glasses.
AR helps a worker access the statistics, data, or written information that enable them to do their job faster without taking a break from their task. This technology has many uses, particularly where workers are conducting highly-complex staff. AR can be leveraged to provide training, boost efficiency, improve workplace safety, and reduce manufacturing time.
3. Machine Learning & AI
Collecting information through IoT devices is just one part of the challenge: you still have to do something with that information. To realize that potential, businesses are investing in AI; machines and computers that can manage tasks and react to changes intelligently.
For example, AI will help manufacturers predict which machines and parts are approaching failure and require maintenance. Over time, the AI will learn and improve this predictive process, which will enable businesses to significantly reduce downtime, reduce repairs costs, and improve efficiency.
4. Additive Manufacturing
Additive manufacturing, or 3D printing, is improving production speed and driving down costs. Businesses that use 3D printing can rapidly prototype new products and solutions with limited investment, enabling them to quickly adapt, test and bring them to market.
Additive manufacturing has many other benefits: it is ideal for low part runs, saves money and material when compared to subtractive manufacturing, and can enable faster creation of more complex parts.
5. Big Data & Analytics
Collecting large volumes of data and then analyzing it helps businesses to uncover new insights into their supply chain and production. Big data and advanced analytics are used to solve one of the main problems with IoT: converting that data into usable insights.
Analytics can be used to clean and analyze the data these devices are capturing, turning raw data into a usable competitive advantage. Advanced analytics systems enable employees to spend less time working on the data, and more time using it to create a strategic advantage.
The latest advances in robotics enable robots to mimic and surpass the dexterity, precision, and skill of a human worker. Using robotics enables businesses to optimize production and workflow and direct human resources towards more value-added tasks.
Originally labelled as job-killers, it’s quickly becoming clear that robotics will create jobs. This is a key investment for many businesses, especially when you consider that manufacturers are struggling to find employees – there are now more jobs than workers in the U.S. Investing in robotics will help your business fill that gap while simultaneously increasing your capabilities.
Your first task is to identify the technologies that will deliver the biggest benefits to your organization’s capabilities. That benefit might be an increase in efficiency, the ability to add additional value, or the technology necessary to improve your products.
Implementing that technology will require changes to your business’s processes, strategies and culture. You will also need to invest time and funds retraining a significant portion of your staff to take advantage of them; technologies such as robotics require new competencies and skills.
It’s a significant undertaking, but it’s worth it: research shows that digital transformation correlates with both revenue growth and share price performance.