How automation can ease the burden of globalization, disruption and other current manufacturing challenges
The manufacturing industry is in the throes of a significant upheaval, largely due to economic globalization, increased competition, an overall talent shortage, and evolving technologies—in a time where customer expectation is higher than ever. But this didn’t happen overnight.
Let’s dive into some trends that have created a new reality for manufacturers, and how automation can help them adapt to the future.
With today’s current technology, the world doesn’t seem so big after all. While this is great news for manufacturers looking to grow their businesses, operating in a global market comes with increased pressures and complexity. Here are some examples:
Trade agreements. There’s a level of uncertainty that comes with trade agreements, with the current tensions between the U.S. and China being one example. There are larger political and market forces at play beyond the control of businesses. And when agreements break down, it can have devastating implications for manufacturers.
Environmental responsibility. There are many regulations in place to protect the environment. Compliance to these can include upgrading equipment, taking measures to “go green” where possible, recycling waste, properly disposing of materials, and holding certain certifications to meet industry standards. All of these efforts require a financial investment.
Responsible sourcing. All raw materials must be responsibly sourced to meet high standards of production and quality. This requires manufacturers to remain current on approved and banned substances and materials, which differ from country to country.
Rising customer expectations
There’s no doubt that the Amazon Effect is real. Amazon’s business and service model has redefined consumers’ buying behavior, which in turn has created new expectations for how buyers and suppliers should interact with physical and digital retailers.
While there’s a lot of evidence about how Amazon has changed the reality for retailers struggling to compete, the ripple effect on manufacturers is profound as well. The bottom line is that they must do more, faster, to meet demand. In the midst of a record-breaking industry talent shortage, this is a huge challenge.
But it’s even more than that. Today’s customers want exactly what they want, and they want it now. Manufacturers must be able to customize products and provide complete visibility into production timelines, which requires a data-driven manufacturing approach, both on the factory floor and beyond.
Industry 4.0 disruption
Generally speaking, the business world is shaped by the innovation happening around us. The World Economic Forum sums it up this way:
The First Industrial Revolution used water and steam power to mechanize production. The Second used electric power to create mass production. The Third used electronics and information technology to automate production. Now a Fourth Industrial Revolution is building on the Third, the digital revolution that has been occurring since the middle of the last century. It is characterized by a fusion of technologies that is blurring the lines between the physical, digital, and biological spheres.
In the manufacturing sector, Industry 4.0 has created a world of smart factories. Deloitte calls them responsive, adaptive, and connected. It’s not just about automated processes; it’s an entire, interconnected network of data from business operations, physical machinery, and humans, layered with AI and machine learning to enable better real-time decision-making and business agility. Smart factories don’t simply look back at the data to see trends, they use technology to continuously adapt to meet changing business needs.
So, how can manufacturers get ahead?
To operate within this reality, manufacturers are turning to automation beyond the factory floor. Operationally speaking, automation technology has the potential to put companies in a better position to compete today, and proactively prepare for future changes coming their way.