Embracing Digital Solutions
The aftermath of the initial COVID-19 lockdown accelerated the adoption of digital platforms, such as for employee communication and resourcing, even in companies that had previously resisted change. As these tools have become embedded in day-to-day processes, there’s now a growing appetite to explore other areas where digital solutions can add to productivity.
In looking to the next stage of digitalisation, there are some key areas where manufacturing leaders are seeking to broaden their potential to collaborate and innovate.
1. Creating a borderless company
Any manufacturing business relies heavily on its talent. From product designers and research experts through to machine operators and engineers, enabling a fluid exchange of dialogue offers a crucial edge in improving product quality and consistency. Conventionally, manufacturing companies have been limited by geography; a maintenance engineer, for example, can’t repair machinery in two places at once. Nor have two technicians at different plants been able to easily share and compare blueprints and diagrams to align approaches.
Realising the potential of digital manufacturing depends on being able to connect workers across locations regardless of physical limitations. Product ideas, process knowledge and direction are just some of the tasks that can now be shared across facilities, countries and even remote locations. Furthermore, they can enable easier interactions between companies, meaning manufacturers can collaborate with OEM partners and customers to arrive at better outcomes. This approach helps reinforce the value of the OEM’s role, and in turn is enabling them to transform their business models. For example, in place of traditional Capex-heavy product offerings, it’s now common for OEMs to take higher calculated risks with service contracts, such as “operating hours”, which enable an ongoing, two-way interaction to ensure that equipment is offering peak performance.
We’ve seen greater interest over this past year among our own customers in tools that help to converge the business value of the physical and virtual worlds. Such capabilities include augmented reality through smartphones and smart glasses, which can be used to simulate the benefits of in-person interaction for tasks such as maintenance and training. We’re also seeing greater use of analytical capabilities, which can be embedded on the shop floor to create a connected factory environment that enables greater predictability of operations. By being able to forecast future resource requirements and identify potential risks well in advance, these technologies serve to minimise downtime, increase throughput and improve the quality and flexibility of production.
2. Turning knowledge into an asset
As we enter an increasingly digitalised age, there are still crucial areas that cannot be replicated by machines or AI. Specialised knowledge on manufacturing processes is still highly valuable and much sought-after in the industry. In many cases, the experts have developed this knowledge through years of practical application, making it difficult to imitate.
It is hard for manufacturers to quantify the cost of losing skilled employees, whether they move to a new employer, retire, or even just switch roles in the company. In any case, it’s important that these skills and expertise are not lost. This is where knowledge-building can become a collaborative endeavour.
In such instances we’ve seen manufacturers dedicate efforts to build a bank of knowledge across the business that can be widely accessed and used regardless of locations or restrictions. We’ve been working with customers to install solutions that help them in building a library of knowledge, such as recording an assembly sequence or repairing a broken part, then in making the instructional videos accessible to everyone.
As remote working and distancing remain common post-lockdown, it’s vital that workers don’t lose the benefit of what they would have learned from working closely with colleagues.