By Dave Murphy, Global UC Alliance Director at IR
Collaboration is important in any business but it’s especially vital to manufacturing firms. The speed and effectiveness with which a manufacturer connects to its far-flung suppliers, customers and business partners can result in significant competitive advantage.
This is why real-time collaboration and communication tools, such as video/web conferencing, mobile messaging and presence technology, have the power to move the needle for manufacturers large and small. And it’s why unified communications systems are quickly gaining traction in the industry. Collaboration tools that are accessible from anywhere at any given moment allow manufacturers the ability to make quicker decisions, speed cycle times, strengthen supply chain relationships and enhance maintenance on the factory floor.
Here are five eye-opening examples of manufacturers using UC tools to advance their business and gain a competitive edge.
1. Capitalizing on the bobblehead craze. For many years, one the largest bobblehead makers in the U.S. struggled with a manufacturing process that simply took too long. The company would design its latest bobblehead—say, a Barry Bonds bobblehead—and send the design to an offshore factory. The factory would make a mold and send it back to the designers at headquarters. The designer would give feedback—like the ears are too big or the haircut is wrong. Then the manufacturer would create another mold and send it back again. The process would ping-pong back and forth until the right design was agreed upon. It made the process cumbersome and time-consuming, with cycle times sometimes exceeding three months.
Then the manufacturer decided to expedite the design and manufacturing process via unified communications. Namely, it implemented a video conferencing system that the design and factory teams could use for real-time collaboration. Suddenly, decisions and revisions could be made in minutes instead of days or weeks.
The decision to embrace UC paid off bigtime when an unheralded player for the New York Knicks named Jeremy Lin came off the bench and immediately caught the attention of basketball fans around the world. “Linsanity” ensued and, when the Knicks ordered Lin bobbleheads ASAP, the manufacturer was able to comply and deliver bobbleheads in a matter of weeks. Cutting design time by more than half. By leveraging UC and capitalizing quickly on “Linsanity”, the company was able to generate additional revenue and margin where none would have existed.
2. Doing remote maintenance on the manufacturing floor. On the manufacturing floor, real-time collaboration can play a starring role when a piece of machinery goes down. In the past, when equipment outages where beyond on-site support, the manufacturer would have to shut down the entire line and wait for a senior repair or manufacturer technician to fly in and fix the problem. That’s an expensive and time-consuming solution.
By contrast, manufacturers can now roll up a cart outfitted with an HD camera and show the video in real time to remote experts. The expert can make an on-the-spot decision to keep production running or change the equipment immediately. A side benefit is that there can now be recorded evidence of every incident on the factory floor. And if there is ever an issue, the company can retrieve the recording as supporting documentation, which is critical from a compliance standpoint.
I also expect to see virtual and augmented reality play a role in the near future. Imagine a factory worker strapping on a Google Glass-style device to inspect a particular machine. Somewhere across the country, a remote expert is viewing the exact same images and guiding that worker through the repair process with detailed instructions. That is the future of UC in the manufacturing realm.
3. Closing the deal. You just finished manufacturing a new line of products. Your top salesperson is in front of the client about to close the deal. But suddenly the customer says it wants to make an even bigger purchase—an amount that exceeds the customer’s credit limit. In the past, the salesperson would usually put the sale on temporary hold, go back to headquarters and hash out a solution with the credit department and the executive team.
But that delay could ultimately jeopardize the sale. That’s where UC can be a game changer. Now the sales rep can use a mobile device to securely initiate a video/web conference with the appropriate executives to renegotiate the credit limit and close the deal. Shorter sales cycles means lower cost of sale and higher margins.
4. Modeling behavior. Fashion is another area where real-time collaboration tools are accelerating manufacturing. There are a lot of U.S.-based fashion teams that do their manufacturing in Asia. This geographical gap can delay the roll out of new fashion lines as design changes are volleyed back and forth.
That’s why forward-thinking garment makers are experimenting with tools like the virtual fashion runway. A model in a remote location can wear, say, a new blouse under neutral white light so the design team a continent away can assess the way it fits and drapes. By sharing ideas over high-definition video conferencing, designers and manufacturers have extra flexibility to do last-minute tweaks to their current collections. If, for instance, yellow blouses with big buttons are suddenly flying off the shelf in spring, a product can be ready for shipment in quick order—instead of next autumn, when nobody wants yellow blouses anymore.
5. Staying alert to problems. Things don’t always go as planned on the factory floor. Sometimes machines act funny or exceed a certain threshold of inefficiency. When that happens, you want to be alerted immediately. A UC system can automatically email or instant message key people who should know about the problem. And it can go step further. The system can automatically create a shared workspace and send out invites to an on-demand web conferencing session. The result is that all critical decision makers are together instantly and making decisions about getting that particular machine up and running quickly and seamlessly.
In all aspects of manufacturing, from supply chain and sales to design and factory floor, unified communications can play a critical role in driving efficiencies and innovation—and enabling manufactures to succeed in the digital age.
About the Author
Dave Murphy is the global UC alliance director at IR. Dave joined IR in 2016 and is responsible for leading the global team focused on enhancing existing, and developing new, Alliance relationships with strategic UC vendors. He has over 25 years experience in communications technology, including working on collaboration solutions in Cisco for almost 10 years and prior to this as a Unified Collaboration Specialist for Microsoft.