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Corey Brown

Innovation

The Rise of the ‘Smart’ Manufacturer

How digital tools enable rapid communication for manufacturing

Published: Monday, January 4, 2021 - 13:03

The ongoing global Covid-19 pandemic has forced companies of all types to rapidly update policies and procedures governing how they share information in response to a world that is constantly changing around them. For the manufacturing sector in particular, their workforce is more spread out than it has ever been, but communication remains essential.

Many knew that telecommuting was the future of the workforce in the United States—it’s just that few could have predicted that “the future” would have come along quite as quickly as it did. In April 2020, at the peak of the first wave of the pandemic, a massive 51 percent of people were working from home. Although that number had dropped to 33 percent by the following October, it’s still enormous, creating a challenge for the manufacturing sector in particular.

Thankfully, a wide range of digital tools have emerged for manufacturing companies that not only enable the rapid communication need right now, but that may also put them in a better decision-making position than they were in before all of this began.

The rise of the ‘smart’ manufacturer

Luckily, this new set of challenges that the industry is facing coincides with the rise of the industrial internet of things (IIoT), a vast network of industrial devices and communication tools that put actionable information at someone’s fingertips more than ever before.

The major benefit here is that these devices, many of which are located all over the shop floor, are not only constantly collecting data but also sharing it. This gives organizational leaders an almost unprecedented level of real-time visibility into what is going on in their organization at any given moment.

Globally, the size of the IIoT in the manufacturing market is projected to reach $45.3 billion by as soon as 2022. With these types of digital tools, manufacturing company leaders can get instant updates on everything from production schedules to resource allocation. They can see exactly what is happening on the shop floor at any given moment. If certain production quotas aren’t being met, they will be able to dive deeper and uncover the reason why. They will be able to see which employees are performing as expected vs. those who aren’t, thus making better choices for things like training and ongoing education.

Rapid change requires better communication

Increasingly, organizations not only recognize the need for centralized monitoring and predictive maintenance tools, but the need to upgrade communication technologies as well.

It’s difficult for manufacturers to communicate best practices effectively when they’re unable to walk people step by step through a process at their desk or shop workstation to show them in person. Rapid communication is required to maintain operational efficiency while adapting to the shifting global market.

According to one recent survey, respondents said that the IIoT will not only help them better understand machine health but will also change the way plant maintenance personnel work and communicate with all levels of operation. This, coupled with the fact that such intelligence will help to better predict (and more important, avoid) plant shutdowns, creates a coalition that couldn’t have come at a better time.


Employee benefits from instant communication of procedures via a quick scan of a QR code

Short-term investments generate long-term benefits

The opportunity of IIoT, coupled with other digital communication tools like enterprise resource planning (ERP) and electronic work instructions, finally bring smart, data-driven communication and collaboration systems to manufacturing organizations during a time when all this is essential to continued success.

The amount of oversight now available is incredible. A single consolidated system can now be used to collect customer contact details, track supplies, better understand the status of the shop floor, and more. All of this can then be used to support and empower not only project planning but also quality control.

These digital tools can also generate instant alerts when something goes wrong, or when production conditions deviate outside the accepted norm. In other words, they won’t just know that there is a problem; with the instant alerts generated from vast amounts of sensor data, they’ll know exactly what happened and why. They will be in an excellent position to address a small problem now before it has a chance to become a much bigger one, and they will be able to prevent it from happening again.

A new era of communication

In the end, these new digital tools will enable people who need information access to perform their jobs better and safer—bringing a new era of communication and collaboration to any organization. By streamlining processes and better managing supplies, these digital tools—and the rapid communication they bring with them—will enable companies to offer greater quality products as a result. Businesses get to enjoy an immediate boost in terms of communication and productivity, while also making a long-term investment in customer satisfaction and retention.

This, of course, brings with it the most critical advantage of all: a long-term boost of profitability.

This isn’t just how you create a genuine competitive advantage in the midst of a global pandemic. It’s also how you set yourself up for a new decade of success that will remain long after Covid-19 has finally been conquered.

First published on the Dozuki blog.

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About The Author

Corey Brown’s picture

Corey Brown

Corey Brown is the lead researcher and editor for manufacturing resources on Dozuki.com. With a background in engineering and technical communication, Corey specializes in quality management, standard work, and lean manufacturing.