The time for talking is over and manufacturers must make some bold decisions sooner rather than later about how they digitalise their workplace.

Cyber systems and technology connecting humans and machines are already impacting on the customer journey, design thinking and on manufacturers’ people processes.  Those delaying investment risk being left behind.

“The manufacturing sector knows something big is happening but too many firms are still unsure about exactly what technology they need to adopt for their specific companies. There are real opportunities to reinvent their business model so they need to stop theorising,” says Vikram Singla, strategy and marketing director – technology at enterprise software business Oracle.

“A producer may decide to keep everything as it is, but this needs to be a conscious choice rather than due to a denial strategy.”

Singla believes many UK firms still take the view that any decision linked to technology is a project for the IT department and they are failing to put the R&D team at the centre of any decision making. He says cross-functional teams should be created and C-Suite executives encouraged to take ownership of any investment in technology so that initial changes can be scaled up quickly.

 

A guide to the '4th Industrial Revolution' for manufacturers

 

Oracle has partnered with The Manufacturers’ Organisation EEF to produce ‘The 4th Industrial Revolution: A Primer for Manufacturers’ white paper.

It outlines how increased connectivity will enable manufacturers to deliver a higher-quality customer experience at a mass production price point. The report explores a number of benefits that 4IR technology adoption will bring to firms including:
 

  • How the use of smart manufacturing techniques will increase production, improve quality, lower resource consumption and enhance workplace safety
     
  • How connecting products will improve production performance and the collection of valuable data to enable, for instance, maintenance to be carried out remotely
     
  • How connecting the supply chain means assets such as trucks and inventory can be accurately tracked
     

Meanwhile, the factory of the future could look very different thanks to technology such as 3D printing which is already being used by companies to print manufacturing-grade components.

There is a clear direction of travel within manufacturing and firms need to use technology to respond to emerging trends. This includes the demand for more customisation where tech can be used to reinvent the customer experience and increase customer lifetime value.

Singla urges firms that are not yet geared up for change to look at what early 4IR adopters have already achieved.

For example in the US, additive manufacturing company Carbon is using the cloud to improve its processes and grow demand internationally for its Digital Light Synthesis technology. Using an integrated suite of applications it has become more agile, has futureproofed its operation and reduced it close cycle from 28 days to seven days.

Also in the US, self-service kiosk and point of sale terminal maker NCR Corporation is moving its operation to the cloud to improve its agility and reduce costs as it evolves from being a product-centric to a solutions-based business.

 

You'll never think of your Ocado order in the same way again... Photo credit: Lucy Carr-Archer

Technology is allowing disruptors to flourish in traditional markets

 

In Germany, integrated energy installer Thermondo has digitalised its processes to become an access point for consumers. Householders enter 15 data points about the heating system they need and an algorithm matches solutions from different gas, oil heating systems and solar based equipment companies.

Digital technology is also making it possible to integrate manufacturing with engineering and design.

Global medical device company Hologic has launched its 3D Digital Breast Tomosynthesis System for use in breast cancer screening. Its design, manufacturing and engineering teams worked closely together using Oracle’s Agile Product Lifecycle Management platform to get the product to market faster.

“There are more start-ups and they are pushing established manufacturers to be more competitive.”

Oracle vice president, manufacturing industries business unit, John Barcus, is based in the US where he believes there is often more of an entrepreneurial spirit among manufacturers which is driving adoption of digital technologies.

“There are more start-ups and they are pushing established manufacturers to be more competitive,” he says. “The infrastructure that firms will need in future, wherever they are based, must be flexible, robust and support the new requirements of connectivity and machine learning. Different IT systems must also work together and be secure.”

 

Getting C-suite and company-wide support

 

Barcus adds that enterprises will get the buy-in they need from their C-suite if it is clear how smaller technology-led manufacturing projects can pay for themselves by delivering business benefits without the need for capital investment.

“In most cases it will not be necessary to make wholesale replacements to infrastructure because a manufacturer can test, validate and monetise a manufacturing project on a smaller scale.”

Barcus says these are exciting times for manufacturing but the future is not just about investing in technology. Firms must also ensure that their culture and leadership embraces innovation, is visionary and is not afraid to make data-driven business decisions.