When we hear about manufacturing, most people who don’t deal with it directly vaguely imagine dimly lit factory floors or tall smokestacks. However, the reality is often very different, and this difference in our mindset and what industry really is will likely get even more obvious in the years to come. Technology develops at breakneck speed, and any manufacturing company willing to stay in business will have to evolve along with it. Half of all UK business leaders are afraid that their industries are going to undergo serious digital disruption as soon as within the next two years – and those who fail to look out for the most important trends are likely to face grave consequences. It concerns everybody, from experts in railings, fencing and gate installation to the automotive industry and beyond. So what are the most important trends? How does one prepare for the future?
In the past, it was good enough to make products in batches of identical units. Any customization was carried out on the batch level, and customers were treated as large groups of people with similar tastes and desires that had to make do with what little choice they were presented with. The idea of producing a thousand unique products for a thousand unique customers was not only exorbitantly costly – it was laughably unrealistic.
But the times are changing. Even the automotive industry, notable for its complexity and difficulty of rearranging production lines for new products, starts to provide multiple customizations offers – and not just for premium vehicles, but also for entry-level ones. Today, customers are free to choose not just the basic characteristics like exterior colors, but many other things as well: interior colors, wheels, additional options like wireless charging and wi-fi – you name it. It finally becomes possible to build customized products just as efficiently as batches.
Rapid advances in technology make rapid changes in production algorithms a reality. And right timing it is, for customers these days are also quick to change their mindsets and preferences concerning products.
In addition to that, cloud analytics devices finally become widely available not just to the large manufacturers but organizations of other sizes as well. This makes it possible to get access to the insights from the assembly line in real time and drastically decrease the time necessary for their implementation. There will no longer be any need for large-scale research and investigation to answer questions like “How to do we speed up production?”, “Are we wasting time or raw materials at any stage of production?”, “Do we have any equipment that needs maintenance?”, “Are there any redundant operations that can be removed without negative effects?”. All this information is accessed immediately, and further developments in machine learning will make the entire process self-correcting.
One of the most significant problems encountered by manufacturing operations willing to undergo digital transformation is their reliance on legacy systems and software that hasn’t been developed to take into account the needs of their particular industry in the first place. All too often, a manufacturing company has to work with several poorly compatible systems that they’ve somehow got to work alongside each other, and are not very willing to disrupt this precarious equilibrium. In order to carry out the digital transformation businesses will have to not just replace their legacy software and processes with new ones, but change their entire approach to the way their IT teams interact with the rest of the organization. This will call not just for the introduction of a unified system covering all aspects of business and manufacturing, but digitizing all aspects of the business: from adopting connected devices to fully embracing digitally enabled services.
The need for digital transformation may have put manufacturing companies on uneven footing. New organizations that have been born in the digital age have it much easier because they start building with the digital aspect of their work in mind. However, many legacy businesses struggle because they have long-standing infrastructure and years of accumulated momentum to deal with. However, the road to future isn’t blocked even for the most conservative companies – they just need to start moving right now.