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Guest blogger - Jeremy Wright is the Director of Product Management at Advanced Technology Services, a leader in outsourced industrial maintenance.
There’s no question that technology plays a key role in our world, our businesses and our everyday lives. The impact it has had on the evolution of the manufacturing industry is no exception. The challenges and opportunities that new and upgraded technology present are now simply a part of the day-to-day operations of many manufacturers.
The pace of technology creation and adoption certainly differ across industries and sectors. For example, the food and service industries have quickly adopted technology with the introduction of mobile apps for convenient ordering and delivery. In the industrial sector, however, the internet of things (IoT) has been a bit slower to develop which may have created some incorrect assumptions that manufacturing technology upgrades are not as beneficial — or even necessary.
In reality, the powerful technology driving so many of the changes we’ve seen since the introduction of the industrial internet of things (IIoT) offers major benefits to manufacturers. The sooner upgrades are implemented, the better their benefits can be recognized– and those upgrades will eventually become necessary just to keep up with the competition.
If you are considering or are in the process of upgrading your manufacturing technology, you may find these do’s and don’ts useful for guiding your strategy:
Do: Recognize the value and opportunities presented by operations data collection and analysis.The potential of data to transform your manufacturing operations cannot be understated. Your options for data collection will typically fall into two categories: integrated, “connected” machinery, or add-on, aftermarket data monitors. Regardless of how you collect data, your intent should be to use it to improve your production efficiency and quality.
With the massive amount of data that you can collect from your daily operations, you’ll have the ability to set up and calibrate equipment more accurately while improving the ability to predict unplanned maintenance issues. With these improvements, you can produce faster and at a higher quality than before.
Do: Respect the additional server load presented by more data. As you implement new data monitors and collection tools, be aware that your technology infrastructure will quickly be operating under a much heavier load. Keep in mind, the vast amounts of data you’ll collect are also of high value - and should be treated as such. Upgraded servers, server expansion and redundancy plans are all factors to consider to better maximize your technology upgrade initiatives.
Do: Understand the human benefits of automation. The efficiency benefits of machine automation processes are well-known – but what is less often discussed are the advantages of automation for your workers. These include additional safety through predictability, fewer injuries due to repetitive motion or risky processes, and a greater focus on more productive and engaging tasks. If you’ve been waiting to upgrade your automation systems, but your workforce has expressed hesitation, sharing how upgrades will benefit your employees may help change their mind.
Do: Consider updating your marketing technology. Upgrading technology outside the plant floor has its benefits as well. Marketing automation is a major topic in business development, and for good reason; It enables your marketing and sales staff to operate more effectively and efficiently, producing better results with more targeted efforts. Updating to the latest marketing automation tools and customer relationship management software helps you organize and track leads and current customers. New marketing tactics like Account-based Marketing tools (ABM) and tools that aid in its strategy can also be highly effective in curating targeted messaging to current customers – in turn converting more leads from those familiar with your brand.
Don’t: Ignore the IIoT trend. Connected machinery — commonly seen as part of “Industry 4.0” and the “Industrial Internet of Things” — is the key driver of the benefits of data collection described above. Don’t view the IIoT as a buzzword, or something you can ignore or catch up with later. As more and more competitors implement connected machinery and realize the benefits of the data they provide, it will become increasingly difficult to keep pace. By being proactive, you put the burden of playing catch-up on your competition.
Don’t: Leave your communications infrastructure out of your technology plans. We’ve covered a lot about machinery and marketing technology upgrades. Communications technology is another area where an upgrade can yield major benefits. Changing your phone system from a traditional landline to VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol), for example, can drastically lower your long-distance charges and make it more cost-effective to expand your geographic operations. If you haven’t updated your website in a while, it’s probably a good time to consider doing so.
Don’t: Adhere to the way processes have “always been done.” In manufacturing, it’s easy to assume that what has worked in the past will continue to work today and into the future. With the fast pace of technological advances - and the potential benefits that technology upgrades offer - that assumption becomes more and more of a detriment. Read and do your research, you’re sure to find that these benefits will apply to you.
Don’t: Overlook marketing as something that manufacturers don’t need. Manufacturers often wonder why they need a marketing plan, especially if they have a robust customer base or primarily manufacture commodities. There are a few facts that refute this assumption:
- Modern consumers have more choice than ever before, and it’s easier to switch from one vendor to the next — making it critical to keep your pipeline full.
- Every company has an identity and a specialty, even those that deal in undifferentiated products.
- Customers make a conscious choice to work with one manufacturer over the other, and a good marketing plan can provide customers with the information they need to choose yours.
With these tips in mind, a thorough assessment of your current technology is a good first step. Then, you can choose the upgrades that will have the most immediate impact for you, and build a strategy and action plan from there.
Jeremy Wright is the Director of Product Management at Advanced Technology Services, a leader in outsourced industrial maintenance. He is a proven technical educator and consultant – leading the development of consulting programs and methodologies for many of the world’s top manufacturing sites. He is also active in numerous professional organizations, including standards organizations, with the purpose of driving reliability to the forefront of many industries.