When people think of disruptive technology, they think of startups like Uber and tech titans like Google, Amazon, and Apple. These companies developed technology based on advanced algorithms where “1-Click” means you’ll have your order within 1-2 business days and “Request Uber” means a private driver will pick you up within minutes and take you to your destination.
Amazon and Uber have proven that better logistics technology can deliver productivity gains at a massive scale, creating a tremendous amount of business value. So, why hasn’t this type of technological disruption we’ve seen in the consumer world transitioned to the industrial world? Clearly, there are many manufacturing challenges, including managing production scheduling, inventory management and constantly changing demand, where innovative technology can make a big impact.
The answer lies in the lack of investment dedicated to solving these operational problems. However, things are beginning to change. Globalization and increased competition have forced many manufacturers to rethink their approach to improving profitability and invest heavily in new technology.
The Need for a User-Friendly Cloud Solution
Manufacturers globally are actively seeking technology to improve their manufacturing operations process and will no longer wait on a 3 to 5-year timeline dictated by their ERP provider. Cloud-based software has a lower upfront cost than on-premise solutions. However, the biggest barrier to cloud software adoption for a plant isn’t upfront costs, but the long implementation time and extensive employee training required for user adoption across the factory site.
The winners in this market will be new and innovative cloud providers that focus on building out-of-the-box applications with intuitive user interfaces for faster adoption and shorter employee training time. Some manufacturers are turning to mobile applications and internet-connected machines as a way to digitally capture shop floor activity data in real-time and gather insights into their manufacturing process. When manufacturers capture relevant real-time production data, they can then take the next step and adopt new technology that further streamlines their manufacturing processes for even greater productivity gains.
The Emergence of the Tech Savvy Operator
One recent fundamental shift that is pushing faster technology adoption has been the workers themselves. As younger operators and cell technicians continue to make up larger and larger portions of the workforce, they bring technology like mobile devices into the workplace. A decade ago, if a plant or operations manager asked an operator to use a tablet device instead of writing on a clipboard, it would have led to some resistance but now it would be considered a natural transition.
Today, the transition to mobile devices and cloud-based technology is a no-brainer for many manufacturing executives but how do you execute this transition without disrupting the complex manufacturing processes already in place? Many manufacturers looking to be early adopters of new technology have started to rely on pilot testing as a key barometer for success. For example, an automotive manufacturer would pilot test a cloud-based application in a single production line/work area, specifically in an area where better management of their production scheduling and inventory would demonstrate a lot of business value. Once the business case has been established, integration with external systems, company-wide employee training and rollout plans for the cloud application can be done for the rest of the site.
Disruptive technology has been thriving in consumer and media industries over the last decade, but the next decade will demonstrate the true impact of these technologies on the global manufacturing economy. Today, Tesla would be considered an early example of an industrial company of the future. Soon many more industrial manufacturers will follow suit.
About Your Guest Blogger:
Andrew Xue is the COO and co-founder of Actvcontent, a manufacturing software and automation company focused on visualizing and automating manufacturing processes. Actvcontent’s automated manufacturing execution system helps manufacturers visualize their factory floor in real-time and create automated workflows to completely streamline key parts of their production process.