Big data, smart data
Big data has been a trend for some time now. But in recent years, there has been a shift in the way manufacturers think about the information at their fingertips. Having substantial amounts of data is not enough. It's how businesses analyse and give their staff access to that information that really matters.
I like to refer to this as 'Smart Data'. We're going to see more manufacturing businesses invest in systems that help drive informed business decisions and allow employees to operate at their peak. This will give these companies substantial competitive advantage in the market.
When businesses implement analytics into their operations and combine existing information with the insights from data provided, intelligent future actions can be identified.
For instance, insights pulled from predictive analytics can significantly improve planning and procurement decisions for manufacturers, helping them make more informed choices about how and where they invest their capital.
It's easy to think that the shift to mobility is less important for manufacturers than other industries. After all, their assets, such as factories and warehouses, are static assets.
But the most forward thinking manufacturers are already ensuring the digital revolution is making their work more efficient and productive. Leading manufacturers are using digital devices to control plant and equipment. Within manufacturing facilities they are often being used by staff to enable communication.
Most manufacturers also have a sales team on the road and mobility is enabling them to access critical business information, wherever they are, from the device of their choice. Enhancing customer relationships through mobility extends to after-sales service for manufacturers, by enabling field technicians to be fully informed when conducting maintenance activities and warranty expirations.
For example, having the access to customer service history-easily from mobile devices- helps technicians understand the customer's history with the company before the call-out. Additionally, technicians can instantly refer to predictive Q&A responses approved by HQ when responding to customer enquiries on-site.
Finally, following a service, technicians should be equipped to schedule the next appointment for a routine maintenance check from their mobile.
Software as a service
We're also going to see more manufacturing business migrate to the cloud. Many are already hosting their mail and data in the cloud. But increasingly, they will also house other essential businesses systems such as CRM and finance information in the cloud.
This will allow manufacturers to more safely store critical business information, in a cost effective fashion. It is worth noting that managed services delivered through a cloud agreement not only optimises software upgrades, but also reduces security risk and disruption to the customers business. It also reduces the need for manufacturers to invest heavily on hardware, resourcing and infrastructure.
The robotics revolution
According to a report by professional services firm PwC and The Manufacturing Institute, 59 per cent of all manufacturers are currently using some form of robotics in their operations. This trend will only continue as robotics transforms the manufacturing sector, making it more efficient and productive.
That won't be news to most players in the manufacturing sector. But what's really interesting about the robotics revolution, according to the report, is that it won't necessarily mean a reduction in headcount for many businesses. In fact, the research suggests businesses need to invest more in skills development to help manage their robotic workforce.
So in coming years, we're likely to see manufacturers develop alliances with universities to allow them to gain access to the best and brightest talent so their robotic workforce is leveraged to its full potential.
3D printing is coming of age
The transformative potential of 3D printing is at its height in the manufacturing sector. It makes it much easier for businesses in this space to produce prototypes for new products, generate short-order runs for clients and to drive innovation in the sector.
As the price of 3D printers becomes more commoditised we're going to see manufacturers begin to explore the potential for this game-changing technology to genuinely drive new ways of operating.
While manufacturers will be familiar with many of these trends, it can be daunting to work out how to incorporate them in day-to-day business activities. So what's the best way to build a business culture where there is an ongoing commitment in the enterprise to adopt new ways of thinking?
I'm reminded of the old joke: Q: What's the best way to eat an elephant? A: One bite at a time. It's the same with new technologies. The idea is to build processes in the business so that new technologies are constantly being examined and assessed on a cost-benefit basis for their ability to add value.
It's also essential to work with trusted service providers that, rather than take a one-size-all approach, are prepared to build bespoke solutions that suit the business's unique circumstances, while taking consideration of legacy systems.
It's a fascinating time in the manufacturing sector. Over the next few years we're going to see the trends described above become deeply embedded in leading manufacturers' operations. This will secure these agile, forward thinking enterprises' position at the core of the Australian economy.