Why should automation be limited to the factory floor? Introduce automatic and AI-assisted efficiencies to manufacturing knowledge work.
The manufacturing industry knows the benefits of automation best. But why should the technological advancements of automation be limited to the factory floor? Manufacturers can also introduce new automation and AI-assisted efficiencies to the work they do at a desk. Today, nearly half of all routine, mid-office knowledge work can be automated.
Targeting this area of work for digital manufacturing is the future of staying competitive in an industry facing globalization, industry 4.0 disruption and rising customer expectations.
Here are eight manufacturing areas where you should apply process automation to increase operational efficiency and improve customer experience in 2020 and beyond.
- Research and development
- Sales and order processing
- Distribution and logistics
- Customer service
Research and development
The innovation, introduction, and improvement of products requires a lot of heavy document work and communication between departments like engineering and production. Design sheets, research compilation, CAD/CAE drawings, standards and specifications, manuals, regulatory applications, inspection checks, and dozens of other documents and spreadsheets for tracking are needed to get from concept to product.
The amount of internal handoffs and supplier communications through multiple documents and platforms create bottlenecks when not orchestrated properly.
Automation tools can standardize and streamline the many moving parts of this process. From project management and data tracking to document processing, conversion and template-filling, connecting it all leads to faster engineering change orders, quicker time to market, fewer errors, and more efficiency overall.
Supplier and materials management are usually comprised of manual, ad hoc processes throughout many supplier portals, internal systems of record, Vendor Management Systems (VMS), documents and email communications.
Procurement automation tools can streamline these processes involving supplier requirements, supplier relationships, and the ordering of goods and services.
Here are some examples:
- Document generation can create automatic RFPs.
- Automatic emails can make supplier communication easier.
- Optical Character Recognition can read and process information in invoices.
- Automated web forms can aid in supplier data management and compliance review.
- Predictive modeling can help complete forecasting or make approvals in minutes.
Orchestrating these repetitive, high-volume processes can lead to faster fulfillment and increased revenue by increasing output.
Sales and order processing
Getting the right products delivered to the right person for the right price has always been a complex process in manufacturing. Now with the rise of consumers wanting more customized products, these demands are higher and involve even more unique data, documents and digital systems than ever.
Manually consolidating information about order placement, fulfillment, tracking and delivery from scattered sources is an administrative drain on your organization and leaves too much room for error.
Automation tools can combine multiple integrated systems and not only provide full documentation and real-time visibility into sales and order status, but can handle pricing calculations, payment processing, address parsing, task assignments, tracking, and adapt to any order changes along the way.
Automating this process improves sales efficiency, sales yield and turnaround time.
Distribution and logistics
Carrier bidding, order instructions, product information, inspection sheets, packing slips, proof of delivery, invoices, and shipment tracking are just some of the types of document workflows that strain and lengthen the distribution and logistics process.
Companies who store goods also have an additional set of challenges and processes around warehousing. Having full visibility into the quality and quantity of inventory and optimizing what’s in stock is essential for increasing cash flow and keeping expenses low.
Automation can reduce the time it takes to get these tasks done by processing a high volume of product information for faster time to revenue, analyzing it for optimization, or looking up the status of any given piece for real-time tracking for better customer service.
There are many people, departments, suppliers, and vendors involved in producing and delivering a product to a customer. Your teams deal with many channels, but your customer expects to be informed during the entire process, through a single channel. And today, they expect answers and deliveries faster than ever before.
Automation can take multiple account histories and integrate them into one system. This data can be used to provide automatic responses with correct information, or route accurate information to the right representatives who can reconcile inbound communications and respond quickly to reduce cycle time and improve customer satisfaction.
U.S. manufacturers are subject to thousands of unique regulations. And the number of regulations goes up exponentially when doing business internationally.
Automating and standardizing the unstructured components of compliance processes ensures that operations use correct versions of information. Access to secure standard operating procedures and inspection reports can lead to increased productivity and accuracy, improved adherence to corporate quality and compliance initiatives and audits, while helping you avoid risk or fines.
Managing compliance information and data in the same structure as you manage quality initiatives can also mean leveraging regulatory data beyond compliance, using this intelligence for competitive advantage, quality improvement or even machine learning opportunities.
The documentation that comes with producing a product on the factory floor is ripe with opportunities for process automation. From quality testing and final fulfillment to inspection documents, manuals and approval documents, this information flow needs to be streamlined to avoid process bottlenecks between employees, or even physical stalls in production.
Manufacturing also comes with a multitude of sensors and IoT devices that need monitoring and data collection and analysis to achieve efficiency and quality.
Process automation is a way to orchestrate and connect all of this data into one digital thread, then use that information for real-time visibility, analytics, AI-assisted decision making, reporting and communications.
Having well-oiled operations, human resources, and finance departments are key to maintaining a properly-trained workforce, boosting the bottom line, and ensuring a safe work environment.
Process automation can handle the documentation and workflow routing that comes with quality recruitment, Human Capital Management (HCM) tool integration, compensation management, performance appraisal, benefits administration, labor relations and compliance management.
The speed of automating these processes can give a significant competitive edge when it comes to the rules-driven, fast-paced operations that manufacturers need.