The events of the past several years have uncovered vulnerabilities affecting manufacturing operations and their inconsistent supply chains. Manufacturing was severely impacted by inherent production inefficiencies, shortage of labor and unreliable availability of raw goods needed to produce enough product to meet demand. The fallout of these events is still being felt today; product recalls are at a 10-year high, and supply chain issues still abound.
In our digitally connected world, on-demand ordering has become the expected norm. When it comes to manufacturing, this is a non-trivial expectation. While undoubtedly presenting opportunities for profit and record-setting growth potential, this expectation has also acted as a stress test for many operations. As we have seen, a breakdown of already stretched supply chains—be it upstream with suppliers, at the factory level or downstream with distribution partners—can result in global marketplaces underperforming. Supply falls, demand is unfulfilled, and we are left grappling with macro challenges like inflation, critical material shortages and more.
Plus, the imperative for companies to rapidly produce lower-cost, higher-quality goods is only increasing. Those unable to innovate and adapt will be unable to compete and risk becoming extinct. That’s why the future of manufacturing is directly tied to how well companies embrace meaningful change and effect transformation based on carefully devised and executed plans. This is no small undertaking when considering the capital-intensive nature of manufacturing, varying levels of infrastructure and automation, and a profound lack of standardization.
Standardizing the future
Manufacturers are aware of the many challenges related to specific production requirements, equipment, skilled resources, regulations, infrastructure and technology. As a result, manufacturers tend to resort to developing highly customized solutions to deal with non-standard challenges perceived to be unique to them.
Customization sounds like a good approach to creating tailored solutions that fit the exact nature of the problem. Unfortunately, it has proven much less effective and sustainable and has become a dirty word in business.
Typically, customization is achieved by developing in-house software or significantly stretching out-of-the-box software applications. Both methods lead to isolated solutions without the ability to leverage information across the manufacturing value stream. Furthermore, these solutions have improper lifecycle management and fail to keep up with technological innovations. At best, it’s like putting a small bandage on a wound that needs medical attention.
The time has passed for isolated solutions with limited value and effective life expectancy. Manufacturing must have real-time visibility and control across supply chains and production value streams. Isolated solutions leave gaps that invariably lead to poor quality, product recalls, waste, longer production times, product shortages, escalating costs, an inability to compete, financial losses and even significant brand damage.
So, how do we establish this sophisticated manufacturing of tomorrow? A great place to start is a change of behavior. Companies must stop viewing manufacturing operations simply as black boxes and inconvenient pieces of their business. Rather, they should look at manufacturing as their business. This will change the mindset for making the necessary commitment and investment to transform the business.
Manufacturers must also realize that all companies are data companies, requiring accurate, reliable and consistent information to operate. This means you have the right solution platforms that can process and contextualize data throughout operations. Point solutions and heavy customization must give way to standards-based solutions specifically designed for managing and executing manufacturing operations.
The right digital platforms can be configured to deliver highly adaptable solutions quickly, effectively and economically. The good news is that combining technology and best practices allows manufacturers to leverage standardization to create sustainable solutions that can grow and evolve with their ever-changing requirements.
Meeting customer expectations
Whereas pandemic-level scarcity created a "buy it before it's gone” mindset, today's consumers want to do business with ethical and transparent manufacturers who live up to their sustainability goals of local sourcing, environmentally friendly manufacturing, waste and emissions reduction, and social responsibility.
Consumers want to see companies do more to deliver on green initiatives, including balancing product quality, price and convenience, so that greener alternatives are more practical and accessible. Flexible, standards-based solution platforms will play a vital role in addressing requirements of responsible manufacturing. After all, benefits such as waste reduction, improved quality, shorter production time and better business sustainability result directly in more environmentally friendly manufacturing, job preservation and improved corporate governance.
Building a digitally enabled business is not merely a matter of acquiring new technologies; it represents a comprehensive transformation of operations, culture and strategies. It requires onboarding talent, implementing training for continued growth and partnering with experienced solution providers to drive programs forward. The bottom line is this: Embracing digitalization is imperative for manufacturing enterprises seeking to remain competitive, agile and sustainable in today's fast-evolving markets.
As Parsec founder and CEO, Eddy Azad is directly involved in steering the deployment of Parsec’s manufacturing operations management software with an emphasis on delivering measurable business value for the users. Parsec Automation is a member of MESA International. MESA, a 501(c)6 not-for-profit trade association, has been helping the global manufacturing community use information technology to achieve business results through premier educational and research programs, best practice sharing and networking since 1992.