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Lee Sands examines how digitisation can help manufacturers increase production line efficiency

The value of UK manufacturing product sales reached a massive £364.7 billion in 2016, a rise of 1.9% on the previous 12 months. While evident that the UK still has a successful manufacturing sector, we’re entering a new age where technology is one of the few remaining levers for manufacturers to find savings and exploit new revenue channels. For manufacturers faced with an ever-increasing skills shortage, digitisation is now the key catalyst for efficient, profitable operations, with recent research showing that just under a quarter of manufacturers are investing heavily in technology specifically to mitigate against this skills shortage, in an effort to streamline and accelerate production lines.

However, this very same research highlighted that 74% of businesses still don’t fully understand the underlying principles of Industry 4.0. So, although manufacturers might recognise that technology and digitisation in general can help increase production line efficiency, reducing waste and ultimately boosting profitability, the sector still has some more education to carry out if it’s to compete with more technologically-savvy markets. That said, digitisation doesn’t have to involve immediately embracing all new available technology, with many manufacturers opting for a more incremental approach, adopting new systems and solutions which result in rapid efficiency savings on the shop floor.

ERP software is a case in point. The right solution can increase control and boost visibility across a manufacturing business by bringing together all vital business functions within one system. Manufacturers are no longer reliant on pulling together information from disparate solutions or spreadsheets held by different departments, instead basing decision-making on a single, reliable source of information. It’s this availability of crucial operational data in real time that can mean the difference between turning a healthy profit and suffering a damaging loss.

When it comes to production line efficiency, the right information at the right time enables increased automation, not only with regards to production but also other manufacturing fundamentals too, such as materials planning and PO management. Plus, as all manufacturers know, with increased automation, comes increased efficiency, both in terms of production and cost, opening up the possibilities for the business to pursue other opportunities or to more readily focus on their existing business.

Inventory optimisation is another key benefit for manufacturers who invest wisely, with the right system able to vastly improve this crucial area for any manufacturing business. A sharper visibility and a firmer grasp on inventory levels helps to reduce surplus. The improvements in demand forecasting are also a benefit of investing in the right solution, and underpin not only materials planning but production scheduling as well. With specific functionality in place to automatically deal with the very issues that can keep manufacturers awake at night, these solutions consolidate information across the business to provide insight and optimise all areas of production, from raw materials coming into the building, to end products being shipped out the door, generating real efficiencies that simply can’t be replicated manually.

The best solutions on the market enable a deeper understanding of the complex and interdependent nature of the many and varied processes and business functions that make up a manufacturing business. The sheer volumes of data that are generated by modern manufacturing businesses must not be taken for granted. It’s only with the right systems in place that manufacturers can hope to fully exploit this information, enabling them to eliminate process bottlenecks, as well as better anticipate customer demand. It’s this winning combination that will ensure that all-important competitive edge for modern manufacturers, with production line efficiency translating to a real difference to the bottom line.

What to look for in a solution for the manufacturing sector:

  1. You need a solution that has a track record in manufacturing. What works for another sector won’t necessarily be the right solution for you.
  2. Work with a partner who understands your business as well as the technology. This will ensure you get the right solution for your specific business needs.
  3. What is it you want to achieve? Focus on your priority areas first rather than taking a broad-brush approach.
  4. Look for customer testimonials. Which solutions are other similar organisations using and to what success?
  5. You need a solution that will grow alongside your business. Don’t let your systems constrain your business potential.

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