Manufacturing has traditionally and historically been viewed as a sluggish industry adverse to change.

By Clinton Scott, MD of TechSoft International

But with the advent of robotics, automation, and IoT, the wheels of progress are well and truly oiled.

As much as technology is the industry’s enabler, the pure economic fragility of the market’s reliance on the health of the global economy and consumer buying indices often counters investment into new systems.

Within Africa, the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) was launched in 2018 by the African Union, in large part to assist industry across the continent by offering a platform to strengthen its common voice and embrace progress. Experts within AfCFTA are now betting on manufacturing to help Africa on the path to post-pandemic recovery. They are projecting that the sector could hit 666.4 billion dollars by 2030, an increase of over $200 billion from 2015.


Today’s Investments

It is clear that automation in manufacturing has, to date, been invested in areas to help reduce costs by applying automation and analytics to engineering, R&D, manufacturing operations, and quality control. The benefit to the business is a reduction in manufacturing defects, optimisation of designs and process improvement. While still important, they aren’t going to ensure business survival past 2021.

Instead of internalising technology, smart manufacturers are looking at how they can leverage data and analytics to derive a new level of automation and virtualisation. This offers a 360-degree high-fidelity virtual data-driven integrated view of operations from suppliers and supply chains to equipment, processes, and manufacturing practices. The bottom line? Better product testing results in better products and increases customer satisfaction.


Tomorrow’s view

The digital manufacturer of the future leverages digital process automation, analytics, AI, and machine learning to understand operations and predict the businesses’ future. Understanding how customers react, respond to, and use their products has often been the missing link in this industry. In fact, sales in times of prosperity are a bit like shooting fish in a barrel, but in times of hardship, this lack of customer visibility can lead to ruin.

When using analytics, the industry doesn’t just benefit from improving revenue but can significantly assist sales and marketing by creating a critical understanding of customer segmentation, demographic analysis, product usage, price optimisation and churn. Understanding your market will help you predict and adapt to customer preferences. It puts the customer first – another link frequently missing in the manufacturing process. But the root of this is big data and master data management, all of which pulls back to better data management.


Nuts and Bolts (literally)

In the age of IoT, traditional manual supply chain management becomes a thing of the past, but it can be argued that IoT is nothing new, and some have been using it (think SCADA) for decades. But the modern digital manufacturer readying themselves for Industry 4.0 know that the data collated by all the “connected things” in their business tells a much bigger story.

When analytics is applied to this data, companies can forecast demand, optimise inventory, and monitor suppliers. Manufacturing operations can perform real-time equipment and process monitoring and automate optimisation. For example, businesses can automate raw material or part replenishment and better manage Six Sigma initiatives. Analytics will also automate product and process quality control by aligning process documentation and even regulatory requirements to the “end result”, allowing for better accountability – beyond just a view of the process.


Visualising the Future

But all this needs to land somewhere. It is easy to say use analytics, streamline operations, leverage IoT better – but what does it all rely and depend on? Systems. And if your systems are living in the 1950s, there is no way this will be a reality.

Most manufacturers have the systems in place that can loop into mobilising them into a more intelligent future; they don’t have the tools to pool it all together. The good news is that modern data platforms know this (think TIBCO EBX) and use APIs to seamlessly connect any application, device or data source across the entire manufacturing data spectrum.

This connected platform combines instrumented systems and IoT to create an intelligent digital factory ecosystem that turns factories and plants into real-time situationally aware, predictive and optimised machines. When this is achieved, we are starting to truly embrace and envision the nirvana of the digital factory and intelligent manufacturing process.