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How Every Department Benefits From Smart Factory Applications

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    Estimated read time: 10 minutes

    Manufacturing is a team effort. In fact, it might just be one of the greatest team efforts in the history of the world.

    Think about it: If you do one thing on the factory floor, the entire production process and all the individuals and teams involved are invariably impacted. Consider the way a machine breakdown can influence the entire supply chain; it’s the butterfly effect in action. If this was a college philosophy course, we’d probably go into a long discussion of how manufacturing is a metaphor for the ways in which we’re all connected. Some people might even get a little misty-eyed. 

    But for now, we’re focusing on the cold hard facts. 

    Here’s one for you: Because manufacturing is a team effort, every decision — like leveraging smart factory applications — should create benefits for the whole organization. That means smart manufacturing can be good news for teams on the factory floor, and also for those in the IT department and the HR office. 

    Let’s take a look at what that really means for manufacturers like you.

    Examples of smart factory applications

    Smart factory applications are just the ways in which you apply smart factory solutions. As such, they come in all shapes and sizes — which means they can have different advantages for your teams. It all comes down to your needs and goals (and, of course, the pragmatic utilization of technology, which is what makes a smart factory so smart). 

    The good news is that, no matter what smart factory solution you choose, you’ll improve the production process in ways that benefit everyone. Here are just a few examples of what those solutions might look like:

    • Preventive maintenance: Remember when we talked about a single machine breakdown impacting the entire supply chain? Yeah. That’s not ideal. To avoid this worst-case scenario, you can utilize preventive maintenance to stop potential problems in their tracks.

    • Predictive maintenance: What’s that? You want to take preventive maintenance to the next level, you say? Well, that’s where predictive maintenance comes in. While it isn’t strictly a replacement for preventive measures (they can and should coexist), it does offer unique benefits by analyzing asset data and predicting future breakdowns. That way, your maintenance activities are more accurate, efficient and effective. 

    • Data capture: Another way to leverage smart factory solutions is to make data capture easier — as in, a whole lot easier. With a smart manufacturing foundation in place, you can use mobile phones, wearable devices and other tech to help workers capture data without interrupting their tasks. Meanwhile, sensors automatically capture machine data and display it side-by-side with worker-created information to create a single source of truth.

    • Data analytics: Once you have all that data, you’ll need a smart factory solution to help you put it to good use. Luckily, there are all kinds of analytics tools that make it possible to transform data into actionable insights, which, in turn, guide your selection and implementation of other smart factory applications.

    • Automation and machine learning: The future is now. Automation, machine learning and artificial intelligence aren’t here to replace real workers, but they can benefit your teams by relieving them of repetitive tasks while eliminating human error.

    • Eliminating disruptions: Perhaps most important of all, smart manufacturing helps you identify and eliminate production disruptions from any source. That means you’ll be able to look beyond machine breakdowns and see all the other things that could be creating costly inefficiencies.

    Any one of these smart factory applications could usher in an industrial-sized revolution. Think about the kind of power they have when you leverage all of them.

    But today, we’re not here to tell you how to get started with smart manufacturing. (We do plenty of that on the rest of our blog.) Instead, we’re here to tell you why you should — and to prove the point, we’re taking a look at how a smart factory can benefit Operations, IT and HR teams.

    How Operations benefits from smart manufacturing

    The Operations team is one of the most obvious choices when you’re looking for a meaningful perspective on smart manufacturing. As your frontline workers, your boots on the ground, these people will likely be the first to benefit from any smart factory solution you implement.

    But what exactly will these benefits look like? Let’s find out:

    Reduced downtime

    No manufacturers like downtime. It’s expensive, frustrating and just plain wasteful.

    Of course, downtime is probably most infamous among Operations teams, where the impacts are felt with special severity. Delays, supply chain disruptions, missed deadlines, interrupted tasks — these are just a few things your hardworking Operations specialists struggle with as a result of downtime.

    Luckily, although downtime will always be part of the manufacturing process, it doesn’t have to be the end of the world. Smart manufacturing makes it possible to reduce downtime across the board with solutions like preventive and predictive maintenance. When downtime does occur, smart manufacturing tools limit its impact and help Operations implement corrective actions more quickly. 

    Streamlined production processes

    When you have a smart factory, every day can be a new industrial revolution. That’s because smart manufacturing allows your Operations team to capture production data, analyze patterns and identify the simplest, most effective way to do things. Better yet, if someone discovers a new best practice, that information can immediately be applied to the production process and shared across the organization.

    Improved incident responses

    As anyone on the Operations team can attest, it’s easy for a small production issue to become a catastrophe. Cushioning the impact comes down to your response — was the right thing done at the right time to solve the right problem?

    If the answer is no, the Operations team suffers because they’re the ones who have to get the production process back on track. If, on the other hand, the answer is yes, the crisis is averted and the team can focus on working efficiently. Simply put, smart manufacturing helps keep “panic mode” at bay and gives your Operations experts the data they need to make incident response a breeze.

    How IT benefits from smart manufacturing

    Operations workers aren’t the only people who can enjoy a smarter, better manufacturing process. In fact, pull back the curtain and you’re likely to find the entire IT department basking in their victory — because, after all, IT has an important role to play in the selection and implementation of smart manufacturing systems.

    Does IT do this for selfish reasons? Are they spearheading this particular industrial revolution just because they want to interact more seamlessly with Operations and prove their vital importance to the entire plant? 

    You’ll have to ask them.

    In the meantime, let’s take a look at some of the IT-specific benefits of smart manufacturing:

    Smarter tech adoption 

    Imagine a row of the shiniest, most impressive tech tools you’ve ever seen, all waiting for you to reach out and grab them. This is what your IT team faces every day — and if they can avoid the temptation, they’ve got more self-control than many manufacturers. That’s because it’s often difficult to tell the difference between tech for tech’s sake and a smart, pragmatic approach to tech adoption. 

    Smart manufacturing helps IT teams make better decisions. When real-time data is always within reach, IT experts can identify gaps and inefficiencies. Armed with information, they can go forth and select the best tech tools for the job instead of burdening themselves and other departments with devices that are frankly superfluous.  

    For example, instead of throwing sensors around like confetti, the team can decide exactly how many sensors are necessary and where they’ll gather the most useful data. That’s a pragmatic choice that saves time and money while delivering far more accurate results.

    Simplified big data management 

    IT teams and big data go together like manufacturers and machines: One really can’t exist without the other. Unfortunately, this often means IT ends up buried under big data — and without the right analytics tools and processes, they can’t do anything about it.

    That’s where smart manufacturing comes in.

    A smart factory has all the tools necessary to manage big data. With effective analytics, simplified storage and unified views of the truth, smart manufacturing solutions improve the quality and reliability of data from across the factory. This, in turn, makes it easier for the IT team to turn this information into actionable insights and otherwise work their data magic. 

    Improved interoperability

    That’s just a fancy way of saying “smart manufacturing helps IT and Operations teams get along.”

    The truth is that these departments don’t always see eye-to-eye. One doesn’t always understand the needs and goals of the other, which can result in disjointed communication and flawed tech utilization. However, with smart manufacturing systems at their disposal, IT teams can better analyze Operations issues — and, just as importantly, they can suggest solutions grounded in specific, transparent data. That means the Operations team will be able to see exactly what IT is talking about instead of taking anyone’s word for it. 

    This leads to a better relationship between two of the most important teams in any manufacturing plant. It also helps align goals across departments and make decisions that actively benefit everyone involved. That’s what we call a win-win.

    How HR benefits from smart manufacturing

    We’ve talked about machines, we’ve talked about tech — isn’t it time we talked about people?

    Yes, the work done by your Operations and IT teams is indispensable. But those teams are made up of human beings, all of whom need a little “predictive maintenance” of their own. That’s why the HR department deserves a spot in this conversation: They, too, can see rich benefits from smart manufacturing.

    Here are just a few examples:

    Better worker safety regulations 

    Taking care of manufacturers means giving them a safe place to work, and some of that responsibility falls on the HR team. Luckily, smart factory applications make this easier than ever.

    That’s because a smart factory utilizes tools like machine learning (ML) and artificial intelligence (AI). These solutions help HR in two big ways:

    • They complete tasks automatically: Some might say the only way to be completely safe on the job is to not do the job at all. That’s the mentality your HR team can adopt thanks to automated task completion. Because there’s no need for a “Robot Relations” department (yet), HR experts can relax knowing human workers are responsible for fewer dangerous, demanding and difficult tasks. 

    • They make tasks easier:  In certain cases, a task is too intricate to be completed by automation or robots. Right now the usage of CNC robotics is one of a trend in smart manufacturing. However, these smart factory applications can still help out by handling certain elements of the job (like repetitive, error-prone tasks) and simplifying others.

    More attractive work environments 

    HR departments are also responsible for hiring, which, at first glance, might not seem to have much to do with smart manufacturing.

    In reality, a smart factory is a much more attractive place to work. Applicants will want to be involved in the faster, more efficient production process and will probably be excited by watching AI and ML enhance their tasks — which means they’ll be more likely to choose you over competitors. This, in turn, makes the HR team’s job easier. All they have to do is point to your smart factory applications and say, “Look what we can do.”

    Effective worker shortage solutions

    The manufacturing worker shortage is part of what’s being called The Great Resignation.” It’s not fun to think about — so we won’t. Instead, let’s turn our attention to how smart manufacturing can help solve this problem.

    Here’s the good news for HR: A smart factory opens doors for previously untapped talent. How? It all comes down to ease of entry. When your production process is streamlined, your decisions are based on analytics, your data is always accurate and your manufacturing systems are digital-first, you can win the attention of job seekers who may never have considered your factory. For example:

    • Older workers who aren’t ready to retire can enjoy tasks simplified and improved by smart manufacturing solutions.

    • Millennials and other young workers will appreciate the abundance of well-placed, well-utilized tech. (They’ll also probably be happy to help you use it in even smarter ways.)

    • Industry newcomers, especially those who thought they’d never fit a job in manufacturing, will find a broader array of tasks and a more engaging environment they can turn into a career.

    Show your factory some TLC

    Gather your Operations, IT and HR teams close — smart manufacturing is a solution for all. With benefits like improved data capture, reduced downtime, automatic task completion and a streamlined production process, everyone in your manufacturing organization can benefit from smart factory applications.

    Of course, you can’t just snap your fingers and have an industrial revolution land in front of you. Instead, you need a foundation, a roadmap, a starting point.

    That’s where we come in.

    Our Smart Manufacturing Platform gives you everything you need to take advantage of smart factory applications. It also helps you show your teams and even your factory itself a little well-deserved TLC. To see for yourself, book a demo today.