Four Ways Digital Tech Helps Small Manufacturers
The world has become transformed by technology. “Transformed” is a word that gets tossed around a great deal when it comes to technological change, especially in the manufacturing sector. We hear of ‘digitally transformed’ or ‘the digital transformation journey’ and how manufacturers are embracing the benefits that can accrue to their business operations from technology applications.
It’s easy, therefore, to become lost or, at least, distracted by the terms and forget what the purpose is and what the net benefits are when a company embarks on one of these ‘digital transformation journeys’. Moreover, small and medium-sized manufacturing entities might give up any effort to leverage technology, citing cost, lack of technology-dedicated manpower within the firm or a simple lack of faith in what it can do.
So, let’s review four key impacts technology can have on a small manufacturing company.
This is the lodestar for all manufacturers and one of the key areas where technology has a huge impact.
Increased productivity results when digital technology provides the capacity to predict and prevent downtime on the factory floor by optimizing equipment effectiveness and maintenance. If a manufacturer can be informed through data analysis in advance of a potential problem on an assembly line or an issue with raw materials from a supplier, corrective actions can be taken. Those corrective actions can then form a strategy for preventive actions, all part of a concerted corrective action and preventive action (CAPA) effort.
Where else can digital technology help to boost productivity? By making employees, themselves, more efficient. Technology is having a major impact on Quality Management Systems (QMS) of which CAPA is one part; today’s QMS is fully automated, with the best ones driven by Salesforce software. An Enterprise Quality Management Solution (EQMS), for example, is able to pinpoint which employees in which areas need further training to increase their own operating efficiency.
By the same token, the EQMS is doing a lot of the tedious, detail-driven compliance work automatically, freeing up manpower to focus more directly on productivity.
Lower Operating Costs
Increased efficiency often leads to lower operating costs – one of the positive knock-on effects of adopting digital technologies. The Business Development Bank of Canada (BDC) conducted a survey in 2017 of 1,000 small manufacturers in Canada to determine the impact of digital technology on their businesses. Half of the businesses declared that their operating costs were reduced as a direct result of adopting digital technology.
The reported cost savings come from various processes:
- Real-time production monitoring and quality control to reduce waste and rework
- Predictive maintenance to prevent costly repairs and unplanned downtime
- Higher automation to save labor costs and improve throughput
- The use of 3-D printers to achieve faster prototyping, reducing the cost of engineering and accelerating time to market
Improvement in Product Quality and Customer Service
Digital technology furthers the CAPA goals of manufacturers while saving them time and money. Sensors embedded in CNC machines, for example, send uninterrupted data to a central computer where data analytics software can detect production problems before they become a full-blown issue and force a partial or complete shutdown on a line or turn into a costly warranty or recall problem for a product that risks being non-compliant.
Not only can the manufacturer remain compliant but customer complaints begin to dwindle while the company’s reputation remains rock solid.
Another valuable digital technology is Customer Relationship Management software (CRM) such as Salesforce offers. CRM systems allow a manufacturer to have a better understanding of a customer’s wants and needs, allowing the company to be proactive, rather than always reactive. Knowing what a customer will likely want or need before the customer requests it, means faster and better service to that customer – and the customer is the lifeblood of any business, after all.
Innovation and Competitive Advantage
The tremendous advances we see in how products are made are only possible through digital technology. As the technology continues to develop and improve, so, too, will a manufacturer’s ability to innovate – faster and more efficiently.
3D printers, for example, are already making enormous inroads in manufacturing. While not every product can be produced this way, more and more of them are being created using 3D technology. GE has manufactured a turboprop engine with 30% fewer parts, as a direct result of using 3D printers and other additive manufacturing methods.
The engine requires fewer inspections and steps during manufacture which saves time and money. Sensors in the engine will allow the creation of what’s known as a ‘digital twin’ – a virtual model of the engine that can be computer-tested using simulated real-world conditions to further development and drive ongoing product improvement. An aircraft engine – or any product, for that matter – made using digital technology available now is going to be less costly to make, maintain and purchase.
There is absolutely no question of the enormous changes being wrought in manufacturing with digital technology. Manufacturers are only just scratching the surface of what can be done. Having said that, it is difficult for many companies to know how to choose or where to begin applying such powerful technology. That’s where a technology partner plays a critical role.
Gerent has spent decades helping manufacturers decide on the best technologies, developing solutions around them and then implementing those solutions. So, a manufacturer does not have to walk an unfamiliar path alone; Gerent can be there, every step of the way.
To learn more about how we can help you find the best solution for your manufacturing business, please contact us today.