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Transform and thrive: How digital removes the guesswork from manufacturing operations

(Image credit: Image Credit: Firma V / Shutterstock)

Digital transformation is a top strategic priority for 94 per cent of executives, but in order to realise its full potential, manufacturers must start to prioritise customer-centric enterprise solutions on their innovation roadmap. Kevin Bull, Product Strategy Director at Columbus UK explains how becoming a digitally empowered business can create better customer engagement throughout the entire product lifecycle, and has the power to unlock disruptive business potential.

As innovative technologies continue to steadily come to the fore across multiple industries, there has never been a more important time for manufacturers to evolve. Many find themselves at a crossroads: to transform and thrive or to ignore the digital transformation call and fall behind the competition.

Digital transformation is already a top priority for organisations. It can help manufacturers build resilience into the supply chain, quickly adapt to market changes and optimise production in a way that is geared towards taking every opportunity to serve customers with excellence. Adopting a data-driven, customer-centric business model and leveraging technology that brings together physical and digital operations is key to helping manufacturers stay on track to success.

Unite data from all corners of the enterprise

Data is at the heart of digital transformation. Manufacturers can enhance productivity and drive customer satisfaction by leveraging powerful data from the factory floor right through to the call centre.

Any business management solution adopted to streamline this process must be able to break down data silos to collect data from remote and disparate sources, integrate into multiple systems and visualise data—helping users gain meaningful and actionable insights spanning finance, production and sales operations.

Improved visibility and access to data also supports collaborative projects across teams. This provides the foundations for stable and predictable operations to enable employees, systems and applications to work in unison, by building processes that extend clear guidelines for operations, allowing associates to collaborate and make decisions quickly and easily. In addition to helping the existing workforce optimise their operations, these well-documented processes reduce the training time of new members.

Efficiency breeds efficiency

When manufacturers have both efficient and effective data collection and visibility, they can put themselves in a strong position to streamline operations, strengthen customer loyalty and, crucially, find new areas for business growth. The right enterprise system will enable them to leverage newly acquired capabilities to predict future trends that may impact production.

Equipped with real-time insights, manufacturers can monitor and resolve any machine issues while also understanding usage and performance to optimise machine lifecycles. These benefits combined help firms achieve 24-hour uptime and minimise operational disruption.

Opening the floodgates to future innovation

Manufacturers already making headway on their digital transformation journey can convert these efficiency gains into a real competitive advantage by moving towards a ‘smart factory’ model. Leveraging smart factory capabilities within ERP creates additional opportunities to optimise the supply chain and boost business performance. Research shows most manufacturers agree with this, with 92 per cent expecting smart factory technologies to help them increase productivity levels per headcount.

In the hard-fought battle to become the manufacturer of choice, speed, flexibility and agility are everything. By removing the guesswork, manufacturers can swiftly speed up time-to-market to overtake competitors and keep pace with Industry 4.0 innovation.

Maintenance goes remote – but stays hands-on

Through the increasing use of Internet of Things (IoT) technology, manufacturers have the chance to add further services such as proactive maintenance and remote monitoring to standard support options.

Delays and ad-hoc issue resolution can quickly become a thing of the past with IoT. The right enterprise-wide system will enable users to intelligently co-ordinate remote technicians equipped with mobile tools and valuable data at their fingertips to collaborate, share best practice and troubleshoot issues from anywhere, at any time.

This is especially important in the new digital age as remote working becomes the norm. It’s paramount for businesses to futureproof themselves by implementing an infrastructure that can support the modern workplace.

Solving customer pain-points means building loyalty

Brand loyalty and trust are essential for survival in any highly competitive market. By providing a 360-degree view of the customer, comprehensive enterprise solutions give manufacturers all the information they need to fully understand issues and even configure tailored offerings based on each customer’s unique buying patterns.

Coupled with predictive analytics capabilities, manufacturers can go even further to solve problems or potential shortages before they have the chance to negatively impact the customer. Such a proactive approach demonstrates a manufacturer’s ‘people skills’, which in turn can significantly enhance its reputation among both existing and prospective customers.

Technology can connect the dots

The right business management solution will allow manufacturers to make use of embedded business intelligence and rich analytics capabilities, while providing users with the same level of convenience they expect from the consumer technologies and apps they use every day.

When selecting this crucial technology, manufacturers should look to connect the front and back office on a single end-to-end platform which enables users to manage every aspect of operations at a pace and scale that’s right for the business. Keep the following short checklist in mind:

  • Is it highly customisable to business requirements?
  • Does it offer price-friendly licensing to meet IT budgets?
  • Will it help increase efficiency and business transformation?
  • Can it access all sites and warehouses?
  • Will it provide access to real-time information?

By making informed decisions, manufacturers can reduce the risks associated with enhancing their products, thereby increasing ROI and delivering more value to their vital customer base.

Keeping pace with changing times

With business operations joined up and frictionless, manufacturers can realise the benefits of digital transformation from the factory floor to the end customer. Having the right technological foundation for this is crucial—but the process is not ‘done’ once the technology is in place.

To move with the times, manufacturers should always look at digital transformation as a journey of process optimisation, business innovation and data-driven decision-making. Once they master this approach to continuous innovation, they can stay ahead of the competition, fast-track growth and consistently deliver the best customer outcomes.

Kevin Bull, Product Strategy Director, Columbus UK

Kevin Bull is Product Strategy Director at Columbus UK. He is a manufacturing and supply chain management expert.