From the pandemic and natural disasters to geopolitical turmoil and fluctuating energy costs, a certain degree of uncertainty may be the only sure thing about the path ahead.
Fortunately, manufacturers also have better tools than ever for responding to changing conditions with resilience and agility. Through the use of advanced tools and capabilities powered by artificial intelligence (AI), they can plan for the unexpected to reduce their vulnerability to disruption. These include tools such as cloud-based analytics, pattern recognition, preventative maintenance and digital twins.
In fact, one of the best rewards of these technologies is that they help manufacturers shift from being reactive to proactive. Up-to-the-minute, real-time data and predictive analytics make it possible to plan for scenarios and events that haven’t happened yet.
AI has been all over the news lately, thanks to the emergence of ChatGPT and DALL-E. But AI and machine learning have been transforming the manufacturing industry for years, and the payoffs are now available for companies with the vision and commitment to fully embrace digital transformation.
Here are major tech trends that will continue to dominate the landscape for manufacturers in 2023 — and how manufacturers can design their digital future in a way that will best position them to harness everything innovation has to offer.
1. AI, Machine Learning, and Cloud-Based Analytics
The arrival of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, or Industry 4.0, continues to unlock new possibilities for manufacturers. The convergence of AI, machine learning, cloud-based analytics, and real-time data from embedded IoT sensors and connected devices helps create better visibility into the entire supply chain — including everything from the production line to materials, suppliers and transport, as well as customer behavior.
In addition to enabling advanced analytics, moving data operations to the cloud confers other advantages, making services more agile and scalable, promoting teamwork and collaboration, and reducing equipment and maintenance costs.
2. IoT: Smart Factories and Warehouses
The steady stream of real-time data IoT sensors provide has made it possible for both warehouses and factories to streamline processes. This has reduced or eliminated wasted time and effort all while enhancing worker safety.
Applying insights from machine learning to IoT data makes it possible to continuously adapt and improve processes while also empowering more informed strategic choices for the future. For example, AI-derived insights can help you make better decisions about stock and organize warehouses to improve speed and efficiency.
And one of the most exciting applications of AI technology is the arrival of autonomous systems, which represent an evolutionary step beyond automation. Autonomous systems draw on AI and IoT data to adapt to minute changes in manufacturing processes in real-time, enhancing quality and efficiency.
3. Supply Chain Management and Visibility
On a big-picture level, an integrated approach that leverages cloud-based analytics and intelligence provided by IoT sensors helps you to visualize your entire supply chain, from beginning to end — so you can spot inefficiencies and identify areas for improvement.
One of the most important keys to a more robust and resilient supply chain is better collaboration and data-sharing between partners and suppliers — a capability that’s increasingly emphasized in the newest and best supply chain technology solutions.
4. Forecasting: Preventative Maintenance and Digital Twinss
The predictive capabilities of Industry 4.0 technologies are among their most valuable benefits. The ability of AI and machine learning to monitor data to detect patterns and anomalies allows your business to play a more sophisticated game of chess, gaming out its moves further ahead.
One practical example is preventive maintenance, as IoT data makes it possible to monitor equipment more closely so you can anticipate and prevent potential breakdowns before they occur — thereby reducing unplanned downtime and costly production delays. You can also use IoT data to monitor and improve product quality.
On a more strategic level, digital twins technology allows you to create a virtual model of your entire supply chain and then test possible scenarios for disruption, including everything from shortages of materials and labor to natural disasters — so you can put effective response plans in place.
The ability to more accurately forecast market demand, customer behavior, and cash flow are further examples of how better and faster data can provide the insights needed to make smarter decisions.
5. Augmented Reality and VR
Some of the best applications for augmented and virtual reality are still coming into focus, but these developing technologies are already demonstrating their value as training tools, as well as the ability to share and access needed expertise remotely.
For example, technicians can access expert support to assist them with complicated tasks or problem-solving that might typically be outside their abilities. AR and VR can also be valuable for enabling product visualization in design processes or viewing products and inventory remotely for inspection.
6. Robotics and Automation
Integrating robotics and automation into production processes will continue to improve efficiency, not only by helping to fill labor shortages but by freeing up team members to focus on more sophisticated tasks as repetitive functions are increasingly automated. Robotics can also improve workplace safety, taking over tasks with a higher risk level to help keep employees safe from injury. Overall, such improvements across the board help manufacturers retain talent in a challenging labor market.
Sustainability is more than just a buzzword. It’s an increasingly important element of successful planning for an unpredictable future. Sustainable processes not only help reduce waste of materials and resources, but they also leave businesses better positioned to handle future shocks and disruptions while often paying dividends in terms of reduced costs and more efficient equipment.
Organizations with the vision and foresight to get ahead of the curve will have an advantage over those who are unprepared. And the good news is that software providers are already responding with solutions (like Microsoft’s Cloud for Sustainability) that make it easier to record, report, and reduce emissions and environmental impact.
Trending Mindfully: The Five Keys to a Successful Digital Transformation
If a technology solution is trending, that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s right for you, and it certainly doesn’t mean you should adopt everything at once and expect a sustainable or meaningful transformation.
There are five crucial factors that are essential to a successful digital transformation, and each of these can make or break your efforts.
Successful digital transformation depends on the following:
Data is the most important asset to a digital business, so the quality of your data is paramount. It’s hard to fully leverage the value of messy, disorganized, and inaccessible data. So, one of the first steps in any successful digital transformation starts with cleaning up your data and organizing it into a central repository, like a data warehouse. That way, everyone’s on the same page — and there’s no waiting around on reporting that causes a delay between insight and action.
☑ Careful Planning
You’ll achieve better success if you take the time to create a roadmap for your digital transformation ahead of time. Figure out what you want to achieve and create a unified, step-by-step plan. This includes listening to all the organization’s key stakeholders to determine their needs and how the right technology can solve problems and enable them to reach their goals.
☑ Company-Wide Adoption
This may be the most pivotal item on the list. Your digital transformation won’t succeed if team members don’t embrace it throughout the entire organization. For this reason, it’s imperative to make sure all hands understand the goals of the process and the ways the transformation will benefit them by making their jobs easier and processes more efficient by reducing tedious and repetitive tasks.
☑ The Right Software
Choosing the right technology solutions for your needs is a process you shouldn’t rush — but the sooner you get started, the sooner you can identify the right set of tools for your needs, and the sooner you can leave behind the limitations of outdated legacy software. Most importantly is that your technology is able to be connected across your organization. An exciting new widget is useless if it can’t talk to your new cloud-based ERP. Although there are a dizzying array of choices available, a technology consultant can help you evaluate them and hone in on the right fit for you.
☑ The Right Partner
To navigate this process successfully, it helps to have an experienced consulting partner who knows the territory and can help you avoid the common pitfalls as you move from planning to implementation and ongoing maintenance.
For example, Eide Bailly had the opportunity to work with Bio Huma Netics, Inc. to overcome challenges related to their disparate, multi-system technology infrastructure. Bio Huma Netics manufactures and distributes fertilizers and humic substances. Their operations are complex, and they needed a team that could understand that complexity and identify a fitting solution. The Eide Bailly team created a custom solution with NetSuite for Manufacturing and RF-SMART, and the outcomes have been incredible.
Armed with this knowledge of top technology trends and important factors in digital transformation, you can now take the next step toward identifying the right technology and opportunities for your unique business.
Our comprehensive guide to digital transformation has the framework you need to map out that step - and design your roadmap to transformation success.