Auto-mate; why automation can be a business’s best friend
Automation and the manufacturing/production industries are no strangers; they’ve been bosom buddies since the 1970s and have been quietly reshaping business for almost half a century. Few sectors have embraced automation so much and for so long. However, the world is changing and some within the sector are being left behind. Seismic advances in technology – from Artificial Intelligence (AI) and machine learning to the Internet of Things (IoT) and sensor technologies – have redefined what’s possible through automation, giving organisations renewed opportunity to transform processes, strengthen safety and increase efficiencies. Yet few are exploiting it – and of those that are, many aren’t leveraging it as much as they could or indeed should. It’s a curious case. Because in time-critical production environments where every second counts, automation can be a business’s best friend. It’s time to shake hands with the future.
A recent Forbes survey suggests that a high majority (90%) of businesses recognise the importance of equipping workers with the best technologies to fulfil their roles – but only 36% of executives believe they are meeting these obligations. In the same survey, the potential automation of workforce tasks is highlighted as a positive opportunity, with 43% of respondents – the highest segment – believing it empowers workers and allows them to focus on ‘higher-value activities.’ Yet too often it remains overlooked.
The benefits of automation are particularly significant in high-risk production environments, where inefficient processes and poor communications can have a major impact on productivity, profitability and, crucially, workforce safety. Maintaining the ability to respond to critical alerts in a safe, timely fashion is paramount. In this vital area, automation isn’t a luxury, it’s a necessity.
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A large number of organisations believe they’ve addressed the challenges of operational visibility to ensure they’re better placed to respond to critical incidents. Many have invested heavily in sensor technologies that connect machine processes to sophisticated control centres and give central operators good visibility of operations across multiple sites and locations. However, too often, they fail to join up the dots and automate the final step of the process that connects a critical alert with an appropriate response. This piles pressure on central operators to a) pick out urgent alerts from the everyday fog of more routine warnings and b) mobilise a prompt, appropriate response. Often, the escalation of alerts is a human process that relies on manual contact and archaic communications mechanisms. As a result, the speed of response is, at best, sluggish and, at worst, a hostage to fortune. This need not be the case.
The next generation of automation tools can relieve the pressure on central operators and trigger immediate alerts directly to the most appropriate response teams. Moreover, they can empower recipients with detailed information on the nature of the problem and provide a clear, auditable mechanism to show a job has been accepted and action to resolve it is underway.
The good news is that these transformative automated tools are not only available today, they’re eminently affordable and simple to deploy. The progressive organisations that have already adopted them are unlocking major productivity and efficiency gains and increasing competitive advantage. What’s more, in industries where workers operate in ATEX zones, these automated processes can function via ATEX-approved devices, helping companies maintain a safe, productive and connected workforce.
Modern technologies are providing production and manufacturing organisations with a great opportunity to increase workforce autonomy, strengthen workplace safety and drive efficiency. The downstream impact on productivity and profitability can be huge. To maximise the opportunity – and fuel the factories of the future, today – it makes sense to partner with a technology specialist who can examine your business and identify the areas where automating machine-to-machine and machine-to-human processes can significantly bolster your operations.
IMF: Variants Can Still Hurt Manufacturing Recovery
After a year of on-and-off manufacturing in the US, UK, and the eurozone, demand for goods surged early last week. Factories set growth records in April and May, suppliers started to recover, and US crude hit its highest price point since pre-COVID. As vaccination efforts immunise much of the US and UK populations, manufacturers are now able to fully ramp up their supply chains. In fact, GDP growth could approach double-digits by 2022.
Now, the ISM productivity measure has surpassed the 50-point mark that separates industry expansion from contraction. Since U.S. president Biden passed his US$1.9tn stimulus package and the UK purchasing managers index (PMI) increased to 65.6, both sides of the Atlantic are facing a much-welcomed manufacturing recovery.
Lingering Concerns Over COVID
Even as Spain, France, Italy, and Germany race to catch up, and mining companies pushed the FTSE 100 index of list shares to a monthly high of 7,129, some say that UK and US markets still suffer from a lack of confidence in raw material supplies. Yes, the Dow Jones has made up its 19,173-point crash of March 2020, and MSCI’s global stock index is at an all-time high.
Yet manufacturers around the world realise that these wins will be short-lived until pandemic supply chain bottlenecks are solved. If we keep the status quo, consumers will pay the price. In April, inflation in Germany reached 2.4%, and across the EU’s 19 member countries, overall prices have increased at an unusual pace. Some ask: Is this true recovery?
IMF: Current Boom Could Falter
Even as Elon Musk tweeted about chip shortages forcing Tesla to raise its prices, UK mining demand skyrocketed; housing markets lifted; and the pound sterling gained value. The International Monetary Fund (IMF), however, cautioned that manufacturing recovery won’t last long if COVID mutates into forms our vaccinations can’t touch. Kristalina Georgieva, Washington’s IMF director, noted that fewer than 1% of African citizens have been vaccinated: “Worldwide access to vaccines offers the best hope for stopping the coronavirus pandemic, saving lives, and securing a broad-based economic recovery”.
Across the globe, manufacturing companies are keeping a watchful eye on new developments in the spread of COVID. Though US FDA officials don’t think we’ll have to “start at square one” with new vaccines, the March 2021 World Economic Outlook states that “high uncertainty” surrounds the projected 6% global growth. Continued manufacturing success will in large part depend on “the path of the pandemic, the effectiveness of policy support, and the evolution of financial conditions”.
Mathias Cormann, secretary-general of the Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD) concurred—without global immunisation, the estimated economic boom expected by 2025 could go kaput. “We need to...pursue an all-out effort to reach the entire world population”, Australia’s finance minister added. US$50bn to end COVID across the world, they imply, is a small investment to restart our economies.