Manufacturing workflows look significantly different than they did just a few decades ago. It’s tempting to attribute advancements to automated machines, robotics, machine learning, or other advanced technologies. But when you trace workflow innovations back to their roots, you’ll find that connectivity and people make the difference.
Over the past 30 years, data has increasingly become more available. It’s changed how we shop, schedule services, access information – even buy and trade stock. Likewise, a team on the shop floor no longer has to wait for weekly reports, machine inspection results, data from supply chain partners, regulatory compliance updates, or answers about their market or competitors. A quick video conference or search can provide virtually any information they need to do their jobs more effectively.
Furthermore, networks don’t only connect people. Now, they also connect things. Equipment, measurement devices, torque tools, and more can send and receive data paving the way for efficient automation. With people and machines collaborating in new ways, it’s easier for employees to upskill, maintain dynamic roles, and achieve greater productivity.
It’s also important to recognize that advancements in manufacturing workflows aren’t limited to the automated line, robotic pick-and-place, or remote machine monitoring. They have the potential to benefit the entire business. Manufacturers are connecting work cells, whether they’re based on automated or manual processes, and using data they generate to improve downstream processes, approach quality control or maintenance with greater insight, and even analyze that data to sync with the supply chain or delivery.
With more connected systems, equipment, and devices, manufacturers have transitioned from on-premises data centers to the cloud to expand computing and storage capacity on demand. Also, with automated processes that require low latency, computing power is moving to the edge and, in some cases, is even embedded within machines or tools themselves to provide even faster, more efficient performance. As manufacturers leverage all of these capabilities and solutions to create connected environments, they’ll continue to enhance efficiency, productivity, and product quality.
Technologies, such as Internet of Things (IoT), artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning (ML), and additive manufacturing, are all enabling an iterative approach to manufacturing – collecting data, analyzing it, and continually making improvements to products and processes. However, the most successful operations recognize that empowered employees are critical to the process.
Enterprises in the 21st century won’t be successful by merely mechanizing; they need to invest in training their workforces, encourage them to learn new skills, and empower them to drive continual improvements in processes and design. Employees closest to the process often have the greatest insights into how to improve product quality or to operate more efficiently – and smart business leaders are listening to them.
Machines alone can’t create a competitive organization – competitiveness will depend on the right people with the right systems and tools and a workplace culture of continual improvement.
Although many manufacturers have set their sights on big data analysis to create a competitive edge, many have now realized that refining manufacturing workflows is a more logical first step to success. Without workflows optimized for data analysis, the data that a company collects may not be relevant or timely, or it may lack integrity.
Unless an organization has the right workflows, connected all equipment, systems, processes, and people with tools that provide democratized access to real-time information, analyzing data won’t generate the results the business needs to operate most competitively. Once those systems are in place and the data is flowing, the company can really start to unlock the value from its data.
Manufacturing workflow advancements require management software that supports smart systems, a connected environment, cloud and edge computing, and an empowered workforce. Unfortunately, the disconnect that some manufacturers experience when they’re trying to optimize workflows isn’t with their systems, equipment, or their workforce. It’s with their software. Management software that’s truly valuable to an organization is designed with respect to the fact that real-time data is available and democratized access to it is vital to success.
Progress toward optimized manufacturing workflows is early in its timeline, but technology is available today that can make it happen. Early adopters who connect machines, systems, and people and recognize that empowered teams are just as important as technology are likely to have the advantage. It’s a powerful strategy for the way forward.