There are lots of different ways that emerging technologies could be introduced into your business. Some of these are quick wins, whereas others are slightly more advanced. I’ve given some brief detail on a few of the solutions I speak to makers about:
ERP management systems
By connecting your systems, you’ll have oversight of all your operations. For instance, you’ll know if every aspect is being effectively managed, and how much it actually costs to make a single unit. It’s surprising how many manufacturers don’t know this figure, and are therefore unaware of their profit margins – and it’s also for this reason that this is often their first step on the journey to digitalisation.
Production planning and control scheduling
Through this technology, you can ensure everything is efficiently scheduled at the right time and can run smoothly. Resources can be allocated, humans assigned, and priorities ordered so that the work is optimised. You’ll be able to collect effective data from each point of the process too.
If you opt to use specific software to virtually replicate things such as your factory layout, you can work out how processes can be more efficiently run. Augmented reality can be used to build a replica of your factory or any part of its operations – one that you can tweak without having to disrupt your business. This means that you don’t actually have to use up resources to decide whether implementing an operational change is worth it. In turn, you’ll save a substantial amount of time and money.
You can also map out the various processes through modelling visualisation. Using 3D virtual models, you could test an update to a machine’s settings before actually changing them. In this way, you’ll be able to look at how you can improve things, and discover the optimal way of doing so. Visualisation is better for bigger changes, as small or incremental ones are generally fine to action without it.
Most businesses already collate some form of data, but this is part of the problem: you don’t want to be collecting data here and there. You want to start from the beginning and then capture information at every point, enabling it to be fed into a wider view of your entire operations for complete tracking of the full production line.
So many companies have what is called a ‘production black hole’ – they don’t know what happens during production, only before it or after it. For example, I worked with a business who didn’t realise that half their material ended up as waste. As a result, they were spending twice the amount of money for no reason. But if you’re aware of this crucial stage of production before taking action, then you can reduce lead time and increase quality – not to mention avoid all that waste.
This is a very simple, but incredibly valuable, solution that you can quickly implement for certain tools or inventory. Through barcoding, a manager wouldn’t need to visit the stockroom to inspect stock levels. Instead, the system would automatically check it, and can also order additional volumes when necessary.
There are non-invasive tracking systems that can help with traceability and accountability too. These are particularly useful in areas such as quality assurance, or for informing the customer throughout the production and delivery process.