manufacturingtechnologyinsights

Using Emerging Technologies to Overcome Top Business Challenges in Manufacturing

By Hans Thalbauer, SVP, IoT and Digital Supply Chain, SAP

Hans Thalbauer, SVP, IoT and Digital Supply Chain, SAP

The logistics and manufacturing industries are undergoing a revolution driven by digital transformation. Internet of Things (IoT), machine learning, and blockchain all promise to completely alter how companies conduct business.

"Emerging technologies like IoT, machine learning and blockchain are becoming common place across the manufacturing sector"

This is not an idea of the future. It is happening now, all over the globe. In fact, the explosion of data generated by IoT alone has changed the way we do business, with 97 percent of manufacturing companies surveyed by Zebra Technologies Corporation reporting IoT is the most significant technology initiative of the decade.

Moving forward with these technologies and inspiring a strategic transformation that yields results is not an easy feat. It requires support from the entire organization, and those that try to do too much at one time will be met with increased challenges. To really succeed with digital transformation, leaders need to proceed with a business first, rather than a technology first mindset. They must look at their vision and goals for the future, and the business challenges that stand in their way, to better understand how they can benefit from IoT and machine learning.

It is imperative to understand emerging business challenges so that implementation and use strategies can map back and address these issues. Below are some of the top challenges facing the manufacturing industry today and a look at how emerging technologies can help us overcome them.

The 360-Degree Customer Experience – Customer expectations are changing alongside business models. It is no longer enough to sell a product, we must consider the entire product lifecycle, showing care and consideration for the customer’s individual preferences through the end delivery. New engagement models that are more personalized, subscription based and pay-as-you-go are a driving force behind this change. Companies can take advantage of predictive maintenance to ensure manufacturing services are “always on” and prioritize the creation of individualized products to drive customer satisfaction.  

Local Manufacturing - If you want to provide custom products at the speed customers demand, you want to have the final assembly as close as possible to your customer base so you can get products to them as quickly as possible. It no longer makes sense in many cases to make products off shore and ship them around the world. Companies are also relying more heavily on automation and robotics on the production floor to cut costs and inefficiencies. The emergence of 3D printing will also help reduce inventory costs and enable more rapid prototyping and customization. Further, “thing- enabled” design, manufacturing and engineering are allowing companies to create smarter products and manufacturing processes.

Networked Economy - Increased connectivity and collaboration across all networks are creating entirely new processes and operating models based on unprecedented insight. Automation and machine learning can be applied to help companies leverage data from smart assets to drive business processes across multiple functions, operating locations and business partners. Visibility across the networked economy is also enabling more sustainable and socially-responsible ecosystems. IoT networks and automation technologies can equip companies with the visibility needed to predict risks and to ensure they are meeting customer demands.

Changing Skillsets and Workforce – In addition to technology, urbanization, changing demographics, and a growing population are just a few examples of societal changes that are putting increased pressure on manufacturing infrastructure. Adapting to these changes requires a shift in the skills of the manufacturing workforce. In fact, 75 percent of manufacturing respondents reported a shortage of skilled workers, according to research from Accenture. Technology is driving the new skills that those working in manufacturing need to succeed.

Emerging technologies like IoT, machine learning and blockchain are becoming common place across the manufacturing sector. The return on investment for those open to embracing these shows the difference between the disruptors and the disrupted. According to a TATA Consultancy Survey, manufacturers utilizing IoT solutions in 2014 saw an average 28.5 percent increase in revenues between 2013 and 2014. As adoption increases, these numbers will only continue to accelerate, making it more important than ever for companies to embrace emerging technologies.

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