7 ways to improve manufacturing

From product design, through production, and into the supply chain

by AT&T Business Editorial Team

Manufacturing companies across the world are increasing the adoption of Industry 4.0 digital technologies at an incredible pace. They’re taking advantage of enhanced visibility, performance, and communication opportunities to resolve challenges that put strains on already tight margins. These may be the result of costs associated with operations, regulatory compliance, and innovation.

To address the immediate needs for factory operations, 79% of manufacturers surveyed report that they’re already making technology changes at the corporate or plant/factory level to move their businesses forward.

If you’re not considering digital transformation as a means to a healthy future for your manufacturing business, you may fall behind the competition. Fortunately, many of the ways IoT is transforming the industrymakes it possible for manufacturers to address business challenges by implementing digital technology from edge-to-edge into factory operations.

Here are seven ways to take advantage of today’s Industry 4.0 technologies and improve your manufacturing operations:

1. Seeing into your operations

Automation is playing a key role in turning manufacturing facilities into digital enterprises. As the proliferation of sensors expand throughout the digital factory, manufacturers are gaining greater visibility into the production process, enabling decisionmakers to see everything from a single viewpoint.

Improved visibility and near real-time access to complex, aggregate data helps to facilitate responsive decision making, the discovery of opportunities for new revenue streams, relief for workforce shortages, and an improved customer experience – all enabling growth.

2. Keep your equipment running

Malfunctioning equipment can have detrimental effects on production flow – interruptions in the execution of production line changeovers, the costs associated with storing produced goods, and costs of lost productivity per minute to name a few. These challenges can be greatly reduced by investing in predictive, rather than preventative, maintenance.

Predictive technology can utilize IoT data to help identify when a piece of machinery is performing at sub-par levels, and then alert managers of unscheduled maintenance needs. Access to this information can help them to plan accordingly – scheduling to take equipment down with an alternative in place to mitigate downtime and interruptions in production.

3. Better performance minute-by-minute

Productivity is the heartbeat of manufacturing operations. It’s no surprise that 58% of larger manufacturing companies are counting on IoT to improve workflow. For example, machine learning can provide analysis of equipment and processes to make automated adjustments during production, manage energy consumption, and reduce waste.

This smart manufacturing environment also helps businesses to streamline both automated and human activities throughout the factory. This can help to protect and improve the overall quality of products produced while also increasing operational efficiency through production optimization.

4. Preventing hacking of the factory and operations

The AT&T 2017 Global State of Cybersecurity report reveals that 80% of companies experienced a cyberattack or breach over the previous 12 months. The ever-increasing number of connected devices provides better visibility into manufacturing operations; however, it also creates additional opportunities for cybercriminals to access sensitive data such as trade secrets and customer information in the manufacturing network.

To protect business integrity against the evolving threat landscape, it’s important to consider all points of entry into your organization’s network with endpoint management, including securing assets, internal, remote, and third-party vendor relationships.

5. Monitoring pallets, containers, and other assets

Manufacturing relies on assets both within the factory and out in the field to be available and operational, but managing the location and condition of these assets can be complex. Managers must be able to have insight into the condition, activity, and location of these, but do so in a format that simplifies the complexity.

Unified asset management empowers operations managers to realize this possibility to better track and plan for the assignment and maintenance of assets. This can help prevent unexpected interruptions that contribute to sluggish productivity, poor use of capital investments, and loss of revenue.

6. Flexible networks for growth and opportunities

Consumer demand is an ever-changing environment.

As the market shifts from brick-and-mortar stores to more e-commerce and direct-to-consumer models which influence activities in the supply chain, manufacturers are having to adopt greater agility to maintain production levels and remain relevant in their industries. Of smaller manufacturing companies, 55% acknowledge this need for scalability, and plan on using IoT to help become more responsive to changing market conditions.

Two such adjustments are the adoption of a software-defined network and edge technologies. Virtualizing functions across different production sites through a single network appliance helps decrease deployment speed, improves flexibility, and can help reduce speed to market time.

To further enhance agility, accessing data on the edge of the network can deliver a faster response time to address operational changes during peak production periods.

7. Sharing critical knowledge and information

Outdated communication practices can cause gaps in efficiency and interruptions to output through poor and miscommunication.

Providing better communication and collaboration opportunities between employees enables leaders to make sure that critical alerts are delivered as needed. It also helps knowledge from seasoned workers to be easily shared with new hires. An added benefit is that data-centric technologies and enhanced communication help them to be more productive, including while working in collaboration with robotics, augmented reality (AR), and other digital innovations.

An edge-to-edge strategy can help manufacturers to create a more stable environment for production, communication, and collaboration from the factory floor to the field. Employing Industry 4.0 technology that includes a flexible, reliable, highly secure network of connected devices can help them address today’s immediate needs and set the stage for tomorrow’s growth.

To learn more about digital transformation in the industry, visit our manufacturing solutions page.