Microsoft: manufacturing innovation & digital transformation
Entering into a new decade faced with the continuing challenges of COVID-19, Manufacturing Global learns how resilience, agility and willingness to embrace technology will drive manufacturing growth in ‘the next normal’ from Irina Ghose, Executive Director, Cloud Solutions, Microsoft India’s latest insights.
The challenges facing manufacturers
Identifying critical issues for the manufacturing industry - including materials shortages, demand shifts, supply chain disruption, reduced workers, cash flow and planning concerns - Ghose highlights that “while many businesses reconfigured their production, supply chains, and services, the shift toward digitally enabled manufacturing is only going to ramp up.”
Like many other sectors, Ghose expects to see digital acceleration across all manufacturing areas. “whether it is keeping employees connected and productive; connecting dealer management systems; automated, robotics-driven factories; or ensuring health guidelines compliance in their facilities,” adds Ghose.
Intelligent and agile factories
Within her insights, Ghose explains the importance of embracing agile manufacturing methods. Businesses that do, “will achieve new levels of productivity by strengthening OT with IT innovations using IoT, cloud, AI, and mixed reality.”
The benefits of this include:
- The ability to monitor equipment and predict anomalies to significantly reduce downtime
- The capacity to calculate overall equipment efficiency with AI and cloud, as well as optimise production saving costs, reducing material waste and reducing energy use
- Increased speed when it comes to industrial scale digitalisation with open platforms and common data frameworks, as well as breaking down data silos on factory floors
Resilient supply chains
In the next decade, Ghose expects to see supply chain efficiency increase due to organisations harnessing machine learning and AI to reduce complexities.
“Technology will enable manufacturers to maintain optimal inventory levels, manage costs, avoid disruption, and increase agility and responsiveness,” says Ghose, who expects data and analytics to play a critical role in analysing and mitigating supply chain risks. This is due to the technology’s ability to enable real-time visibility and deeper insights.
Innovation and new services
Further within her insights, Ghose expects manufacturers to be able to speed innovation, realise a faster speed-to-market, and improve product and services quality. She attributes this to the vast quantities of data being produced from IoT sensors, field service, sales, factories, and the supply chain.
“With connected product innovation solutions, you can get real-time insight into which products and features customers are using without waiting for customer survey results.”
Forward looking, Ghose details the need for businesses to engage with customers in new ways, “It will be essential,” says Ghose, “to deliver relevant experiences across marketing, sales, and service channels.”
To move towards ‘product-as-a-service’, organisations should proactively engage with customers throughout a product's lifecycle. “With connected field service solutions, you can remotely monitor the smart products sold to customers. One can thus get the insights they need to do predictive maintenance – and minimise the customer’s downtime.”
Ghose also identifies the importance of taking a collaborative approach to the sales process in order to help sellers navigate increasingly complex portfolios.
Finally, Ghose states that “while technology is radically changing how we innovate, make products, deliver services, and explore new business models, at the core of all of this will be people.”
She explains that it will be vital for manufacturers to ensure that they equip their workforce with the skills and manufacturing technology needed in order to keep up as the industry shifts. “Advancing modern roles, re-skilling to accelerate a data-driven culture, and empowering the first-line worker will be as important as embracing technology to leapfrog into the next phase,” Ghose adds.
Gartner: Leaders Lack Skilled Smart Manufacturing Workers
With organisations rapidly adopting industry 4.0 capabilities to increase productivity, efficiency, transparency, and quality as well as reduce cost, manufacturers “are under pressure to bring their workforce into the 21st century,” says Gartner.
While more connected factory workers are leveraging digital tools and data management techniques to improve decision accuracy, increase knowledge and lessen variability, 57% of manufacturing leaders feel that their organisations lack the skilled workers needed to support their smart manufacturing digitalisation plans.
“Our survey revealed that manufacturers are currently going through a difficult phase in their digitisation journey toward smart manufacturing,” said Simon Jacobson, Vice President analyst, Gartner Supply Chain practice.
“They accept that changing from a break-fix mentality and culture to a data-driven workforce is a must. However, intuition, efficiency and engagement cannot be sacrificed. New workers might be tech-savvy but lack access to best practices and know-how — and tenured workers might have the knowledge, but not the digital skills. A truly connected factory worker in a smart manufacturing environment needs both.”
Surveying 439 respondents from North America, Western Europe and APAC, Gartner found that “organisational complexity, integration and process reengineering are the most prevalent challenges for executing smart manufacturing initiatives.” Combined they represent “the largest change management obstacle [for manufacturers],” adds Gartner.
“It’s interesting to see that leadership commitment is frequently cited as not being a challenge. Across all respondents, 83% agree that their leadership understands and accepts the need to invest in smart manufacturing. However, it does not reflect whether or not the majority of leaders understand the magnitude of change in front of them – regarding technology, as well as talent,” added Jacobson.
Technology and People
While the value and opportunities smart manufacturing can provide an organisation is being recognised, introducing technology alone isn’t enough. Gartner emphasises the importance of evolving factory workers alongside the technology, ensuring that they are on board in order for the change to be successful.
“The most immediate action is for organisations to realize that this is more than digitisation. It requires synchronising activities for capability building, capability enablement and empowering people. Taking a ‘how to improve a day in the life’ approach will increase engagement, continuous learning and ultimately foster a pull-based approach that will attract tenured workers. They are the best points of contact to identify the best starting points for automation and the required data and digital tools for better decision-making,” said Jacobson.
Long term, “it is important to establish a data-driven culture in manufacturing operations that is rooted in governance and training - without stifling employee creativity and ingenuity,” concluded Gartner.