It’s easy for manufacturers to get lost in the hype of new technology and lose sight of the essential objectives that should be at the heart of any IT strategy. But, it is essential for managers to remain rooted in the fundamentals and fully understand the role basic ERP architecture plays in laying the foundation. Productivity, efficiency, and customer satisfaction are the critical core goals which must remain in focus throughout the mad rush of change.
What’s the Problem?
The tsunami-like waves of disruptive IT solutions hitting manufacturing are staggering. Never has there been such a convergence of innovation for both manufacturing’s shop floor and the back office. Executives, from the CEO and CIO to the plant manager, are faced with the arduous tasks of setting priorities and determining which emerging tactics best fit with the company’s mission and customer expectations. The wide range of choices can be overwhelming.
High profile, disruptive technologies are getting plenty of air time. Augmented Reality, Internet of Things, Machine Learning, Robotics, Predictive Analytics and Data Science are among the topics that all fall under the Digitalization umbrella. These are the hot innovations gaining traction in the manufacturing segment.
But not every enterprise is ready for the plunge into digitalization’s deep end. Learning to float and paddle around in low-risk, high ROI tactics must come first as a way to test the capacity of the infrastructure and find any gaps in basic processes. Some manufacturers are still using spreadsheets, still using disparate solutions, and relying on manual processes for planning, reporting and tracking customer orders.
Manufacturing shop floors are notorious for the use of rudimentary processes like job packets, a schedule wall, and a clipboard to track the use of parts and resources pulled from inventory. Every manual system in place provides opportunities for extensive errors, gaps in communications, loss of efficiency, and waste of time and resources — places where a customer’s job can “fall through the cracks” and put a relationship at risk.
Fundamentals Come First
Manufacturers considering technology investments for 2017 need to first examine their basic infrastructure and make sure the fundamentals are covered. Improving efficiency and productivity are two of the most basic ways to improve the bottom line. If those tactics have not been fully exhausted, then the manufacturer will benefit from reviewing some classic Lean Manufacturing principles and conducting an operational audit, reviewing common errors and performance gaps, and looking for ways to improve the system.
Checklist of the Must-Have Basics
These five basic capabilities should be considered prerequisites to the era of digitalization.
Agility, flexibility and speed of implementation are three benefits of cloud computing which support the modern manufacturer who is confronting the ever-changing market landscape. Because cloud deployment eliminates the need to own hardware, service and extensive on-site IT staffs, manufacturers can “pop up” new locations in emerging markets, branches near key customers, and new production facilities to focus on one specialized product or service. This type of agility is critical for efficiency in responding to changing market demands and escalating customer expectations.
Cloud deployment also offers “always modern” technology as it is rolled out by the provider. This means you no longer have to be concerned about upgrades and making sure you stay up to date with modern features. Vast storage ability is another critical benefit critical today. As manufacturers begin to tap into the potential of sensors and Internet of Things technologies, they will require the massive storage cloud computing provides.
This is a game changer and one of the easiest to boost productivity of personnel within the plant. Giving employees remote access to data 24/7 through the use of laptops, tablets and smart phones opens vast abilities to monitor and engage anywhere anytime. Employees at multiple levels in the organization will benefit, becoming more proactive and more tapped in to minute-by-minute progress of activities. Personnel like field technicians, warehouse employees and shop floor supervisors will especially benefit from access to data when and where they need it most.
One Enterprise View
The enterprise view should include branches, divisions, warehouses, fleets, channel partners, subcontractors and co-manufacturers, in short, any organization that contributes to the product lifecycle and impacts revenue. This is one of the most crucial basics, yet one that is often overlooked. As the networks of suppliers and partners have exponentially expanded in the last decade, the visibility has not always expanded at the same rate, leaving gaps and causing delays.
Tracking KPIs and Reporting
Outdated ERP systems, with yesterday’s version of reporting, mean personnel are forced to turn the IT department for reports and setting up forms. This places a huge burden on the IT department and sometimes causes teams on the shop floor to resort to their own manual processes. Not only is this a huge drain on time, it often produces reports that are simply not accurate — dangerous to the welfare of the company. Modern solutions offer self-service reporting tools that encourage personnel to examine their own KPIs, proactively search for anomalies and dive into the cause of problems.
Collaboration Beyond Email
Modern manufacturing enterprises encourage collaboration between customers, partners and colleagues, hoping for product innovation and problem solving. But, manufacturers have also learned that email chains are inadequate, distracting and seldom provide the integration to the ERP solution that is needed. Business social tools are much more efficient and well-suite for the way today’s workforce collaborates on projects.
These five technologies are part of the core ERP architecture a manufacturer needs to have in place. As competition heats up and disruptive technologies force manufacturers to modernize their plants, it will be important for managers to keep site of the basics, such as efficiency and productivity. Often these fundamentals offer the most ROI, yet are easily overlooked tactics. If your plant has not fully exhausted these basics, starting there will be important to establish the foundation and to capture low-hanging fruits of labor.
Mark Humphlett is a Sr. Director of Industry & Product Marketing at Infor.