Like entities in every vertical market with the exclusion of the public sector, manufacturers are finding that they must embrace technological advances to improve plant productivity, compete against rivals and maintain an edge with customers. But which technological advances should they be looking at, and how can MSPs make sure their clients are on the right path here? A recent study by PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) offers some insight.
The study points to four hot technologies for the manufacturing arena. They are:
- Internet of Things (IoT). The “connected factory is an idea that has been evolving for the past few years,” the study says. Leveraging the web to link machines, sensors, computers and humans in order to enable new levels of information monitoring, collection, processing and analysis, according to PwC, allows collected data to be translated into insights that can yield such benefits as a better understanding of the amount of voltage used to produce a product or how performance is impacted by temperature, pressure and humidity. The study cites the example of Black & Decker, which has adapted the IoT in a plant in Mexico to monitor the status of production lines in real time via mobile devices and Wi-Fi RFID tags, increasing equipment effectiveness, labor utilization and throughput by a respective 24, 10, and 10 percent.
- Cobotics. In a cobotics environment, operators and machines are teamed together to make complex parts of the assembly process easier, faster and safer. Applications have traditionally centered on “specific ergonomically challenging tasks within the aerospace and automotive industries,” the study stipulates, but there is now an expansion in scope as automation developers introduce more sophisticated sensors and more adaptable, highly functional robotic equipment that will allow for deft interaction between humans and machines on the factory floor.
- Augmented reality. With augmented reality tools, real-time information and guidance is delivered to individuals on the factory floor, at the point of use, in the form of text, graphics, audio, and other virtual enhancements superimposed onto goggles or real assemblies. Some industrial manufacturing companies are using this technology to provide hands-free training, enable faster responses to maintenance requests, track inventory, increase safety and share a real-time view of manufacturing operations.
- 3D Printing. This is a technology we covered in a recent blog post, and we’re gratified to see it on PwC’s roster of top technologies for the manufacturing sector.
But no matter the technology and solutions they implement, however, manufacturers clearly need to consider their investments through three paths of analysis, according to the study. MSPs can assist clients in pursuing these paths, and can tie them in to their approach to sealing the deal. Here’s a look at the three paths laid out by PwC:
- Determine which specific areas of the organization need improvement, and/or what performance target each proposed technology investment is supposed to hit. Investigate how the investment(s) will impact cost, quality, labor and/or other strategic concerns, as well as how the new technology will help to differentiate the value the company provides to its customers. Figure out whether the technology or technologies will create capacity or generate productivity in the constrained parts of the operation, and if it/they will yield increased flexibility to help the manufacturer grapple with uncertainty in its market.
- Assess how the new technology or technologies will enable the anticipated level of performance, and weigh the value of achieving that performance against the dollar value of the investment. Look at what level of output the manufacturing facility or facilities should be able to create at present, and how much improvement can be expected over time as the technology or technologies evolve. Identify the current leaders in the company’s market and what tangible impact their technology may be having (this may take some Internet research and other detective work). Attempt to gauge how feasible it is, based on a comparison between the features of the technology or technologies and set performance goals,that the former will evolve to reliably deliver on the latter.
- Attempt to understand the operational and organizational implications of the technology or technologies and how it/they align with a vision of the factory of the future. Questions to ask here include how the technology or technologies help or hurt operators or the company culture and the degree of scalability they afford. Determine, too, how well the technology or technologies integrate into the company’s technology backbone.
Leave manufacturing clients with this: Making strategic investments in technology is essential for their growth, but many of the technologies being introduced today will be commonplace in five or 10 years. There must be a continued eye toward that reality rather than just the current bottom line.