The manufacturing industry is transforming as it embraces advanced technologies for greater communication, expanded production, improved cost efficiencies, and increased reliability. Manufacturers throughout the Golden State and across America are using e-commerce, advanced analytics, robotics, and other technologies to turn their shops into smart factories. Following is a brief discussion of the top trends we’re seeing in manufacturing and what it all means for our industry.
The Internet has transformed the manufacturing and order fulfillment process, with e-commerce platforms in modern manufacturing on the rise. More manufacturers are increasingly using e-commerce to give their customers a rich, personalized online experience. They are spending money and time on website development and executing Internet and e-commerce applications as viable ways to grow and acquire new business. An e-commerce platform allows a manufacturer to have direct access to customers – interact with them, learn from them and fine-tune products based on client feedback. In addition, effective application of e-commerce enables your organization to grow and scale easily to meet market demand and customer needs by opening new sales channels and continuously reaching new market segments.
Another benefit that e-commerce offers is improved efficiencies. With integration to an enterprise resource planning (ERP) and other back-end business systems, customers are able to order online whenever and wherever it suits them. Customer service can focus on actual customer service functions and it’s the need to rekey data in independent systems is eliminated. Additionally, APIs (application program interfaces), Integration, the Internet of Things (IoT), other connection services and cloud-based technologies are helping manufacturers migrate from legacy systems to interconnected, smart, and predictive systems.
Advanced analytics refers to the application of statistics and other mathematical tools to business data in order to assess and improve practices. Advanced analytics can help increase productivity, maximize operational efficiency and reduce production costs for manufacturers – all while offering more insight into what’s happening throughout the manufacturing supply chain. For example, an operations manager can use data to predict when a piece of machinery is liable to break down, providing for the opportunity to implement preventive measures to mitigate component failures before they occur. Advanced analytics can also help with getting real-time reports on shipping products. Business owners can collect data regarding customer-buying habits.
Industrial robots are also facilitating the revolutionizing of manufacturing. As robots become smarter, faster and cheaper, they’re being called upon to do more. They’re taking on more “human” capabilities and traits such as sensing, dexterity, memory and trainability, and are being used in manufacturing to create efficiencies all the way from raw material handling to finished product packing. They can be programmed to operate 24/7 in lights-out situations for continuous production.
Moreover, as robots become less costly and more accessible, they should help smaller manufacturers compete with giants. By reducing labor costs, they also may allow the U.S. to get back into some of the processes that have gone the way of China, Mexico and other countries with lower-paid workers. For example, some of the latest robots are designed specifically for the nimble job of assembling consumer-electronics items, now mostly done by hand in Asia. At least one company, according to an article in the Wall Street Journal, promises its robots eventually will be sewing garments in the U.S.
In addition, researchers hope robots will become so easy to set up and move around that they can reduce the need for manufacturers to make heavy investments in tools and structures that are bolted to the floor. That would allow them to make shorter runs of niche or custom products without having to spend lots of time and money reconfiguring factories.
Industry 4.0 is comprised of the digital innovations discussed here but also spans other technologies, such as 3-D printing, artificial intelligence, IoT, sophisticated sensors and more. Industry 4.0 is revolutionizing the use of analytics and manufacturing intelligence, setting the foundation for greater optimization of overall business and control, better manufacturing, and operations planning improved logistics and supply chain efficiency and more efficient maintenance of production assets and machinery. By better orchestrating these strategic areas, manufacturers, including small and medium-sized shops, will be able to attain levels of accuracy and responsiveness to customers not possible before.
We would be remiss if we didn’t also cover the increased cybersecurity risks faced by manufacturers when discussing the opportunities advanced technology and data bring to our industry. Smart, connected products, and processes make for vast amounts of data and more network entry points for bad actors. “As the industry races toward the next frontier, manufacturers must strike a balance between progress and security,” said Rick Schreiber, Partner and National Leader of the Manufacturing & Distribution practice and National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) Board Member. “Data analytics and the Internet of Things may spur the next industrial revolution, but with that comes increased exposure to cyber risk…”
In fact, as we discussed in our previous article, manufacturing is now one of the most frequently hacked industries. The threat of being hacked or becoming the victim of a security breach is on the rise in our sector, and there is a strong need for manufacturers to bolster their network security and protect their intellectual property.
Manufacturers with a roadmap and vision for digitalization and Industry 4.0 are well positioned to maintain and improve their position as this new, competitive force separates those companies that embrace the age of analytics from those that don’t. At the same time, manufacturers must be diligent in protecting against cyber threats with robust risk management practices supported by a comprehensive insurance program. Precision Manufacturing Insurance Services (PMIS) specializes in insuring manufacturing firms throughout California. We focus on protecting manufacturers with end-to-end insurance solutions and risk management strategies. For more information about our products and services, give us a call at 855.910.5788.