Brian Hynes explores how manufacturers can embrace digitisation and cloud technology to ensure sustainable business growth
According to the figures released by the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) at the tail-end of last year, UK manufacturing is experiencing its biggest boom in 30 years, with many manufacturers seeing their busiest order books since 1988. The combination of a weak pound and strong Euro-zone economies has resulted in a dramatic upturn in exports for UK businesses, making manufacturing somewhat of a shining star in the UK’s otherwise sluggish economy. For many manufacturers, this unpredicted growth, although very welcome, has led to a whole new set of challenges, namely keeping pace with this upturn in output, and ensuring their businesses have the right systems and infrastructures in place to not only keep up with demand but to pave the way for future growth as well. So, how can manufacturers meet these new challenges?
First and foremost comes the need to embrace digitisation. For manufacturers, this means making the most of available digital technologies to further the overall aims of the business. That’s not to say manufacturers should invest in technology for technology’s sake, but wise investments in software and systems can open up a whole host of new opportunities for a manufacturing business. Take manufacturing ERP software, for example. With the right solution in place, manufacturers can unite all processes and procedures within a single, unified product suite, identifying inefficiencies across the business and taking the necessary action to streamline operations, maximising productivity and optimising profits.
Enterprise software designed specifically to address the daily issues faced by the manufacturing sector puts in place the right tools and technology to foster closer working practices, breaking down the silos of information and establishing a central repository for all business information, helping manufacturers to adopt a slicker, more process orientated approach to their entire business, enhancing visibility across the business and increasing control. It’s this seamless approach to operations that opens the door to even more innovation, with the concept of Industry 4.0 requiring the right systems in place if businesses are to have a hope of reaping some of the potential benefits that this fourth industrial revolution has to offer.
At the heart of the concept of Industry 4.0 lie smart factories, where all systems are connected by way of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and the Internet of Things (IoT), with a network of machines, devices, sensors and people that communicate freely with each other, providing the very data that underpins the ongoing operation of the smart factory. What results are improvements in productivity, reductions in labour costs, increased quality of products and less waste, not to mention the predicted thirteen-fold increase of the on-time delivery of products, and vast improvements in capex and inventory costs, as well as greatly reduced logistics and transport costs.
In short, Industry 4.0 and its smart factories are set to make manufacturing less wasteful, more productive, more efficient and ultimately, more profitable. But, in order to stand a chance of achieving any of these benefits, manufacturers need to first adopt and implement digital technologies across all aspects of the business, from finance through to despatch, putting in place the secure foundations on which to build successful smart operations.
Another area prime for investment from manufacturers is the shift towards the cloud. When it comes to cloud technology and manufacturers, the benefits to be had are many and varied. The cloud’s core value proposition of easy provisioning, flexible scaling and lower total cost of ownership (TCO) make it a wise option for manufacturing organisations who are looking to grow their business. Although some manufacturers may be sceptical due to the perceived high financial investment that’s involved in going to the cloud, the actual reality is that organisations who have embraced cloud-based solutions have quickly achieved significant cost savings that actually increase over time because of the lack of indirect costs that are symptomatic of on-premise software.
Migrating ERP software applications to the cloud also increases the value of your IT department as your staff will be freed-up to concentrate on more strategic, value-add activities, leading to inevitable efficiency and cost savings. And, perhaps most importantly when it comes to supporting business growth, the flexibility and scalability of solutions in the cloud afford organisations the ability to quickly and easily scale-up their infrastructure in-line with any business expansion, with minimal cost and disruption to the rest of the business. Add to this the fact that users of cloud-based solutions benefit from consistent upgrades, maintenance and enhanced security protocols, but without the associated costs and time delays of more traditional, on-premise solutions, and it’s easy to see why an increasing number of manufacturing business are deploying cloud ERP products.
To continue to ride the wave of success that UK manufacturers are currently experiencing, digital transformation in manufacturing is a must. Manufacturing businesses need ignore value-add digital technologies and advances at their own peril, running the risk of being left behind while savvier, forward-thinking competitors embrace new technologies to facilitate business growth. By investing wisely now while business is good, manufacturers can ensure they have the optimum business processes, procedures and infrastructures in place to meet head-on any future challenges they might face, with streamlined, efficient and agile businesses the perfect springboard to continued success.
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