Manufacturers are expanding and accelerating their automation initiatives to empower remote workers and remain competitive.

Manufacturers Accelerate Automation in Wake of COVID-19
Amid one of the largest business disruptions of the decade, manufacturers are relying on process automation to provide superior customer experience.

Manufacturing businesses have been deeply impacted by the pandemic. Business shutdowns, travel restrictions and stay-at-home orders have introduced new cost pressures, as well as an urgent need for remote working tools that coordinate teams and keep operations running smoothly. These factors have pushed the adoption of technologies like process automation and intelligent case management higher up on the executive agenda.

While automation has been widely adopted on production lines, more manufacturers are looking to extend the benefits of automation – in its digital form – into back offices, customer service centers and other business areas. A recent Thomas Industrial Survey, which explored the impacts of COVID-19 on the industrial sector, found that one in four U.S. manufacturers are considering expanding industrial automation as a result of the pandemic, while one in five already has automated systems in place.

Breaking through bottlenecks

Remote work is incredibly challenging when people are used to manual approaches. Working in different systems and sharing spreadsheets and scanned documents over email can lead to poor data accessibility and a lack of process transparency. In this scenario, it is tricky for team leaders to track progress and monitor performance.

Now more than ever, businesses need access to technologies that turn paper files into digital assets and transform fragmented, human-centric process components through automation. With a cohesive and intelligent case management system in place, organizations can provide all employees with a standard and fully optimized way of working, at home or on-premises. This empowers employees to achieve more with less effort; and allows managers to keep a close eye on process speed and output.

Automation use cases

Outlined below are some examples of how manufacturing companies can leverage digital process automation to ramp up efficiency and response times.

Streamline new product development

Automation can help companies optimize the entire new product development process, from design and testing to approval and production. Global product development projects often involve employees, partners and customers at multiple locations. A process automation solution can provide these teams with the tools to coordinate their efforts and data – enhancing global collaboration, increasing time-to-market speed and ensuring quality standards are met. Additionally, every process step is documented to support regulatory compliance requirements and create a credible audit trail.

Automate order entry

During peak times, manual order processing can create bottlenecks. This negatively impacts the customer experience and slows overall operational performance. To address these issues, an automated order entry system can be deployed to integrate with warehousing software and other line-of-business systems. In one central place, staff can check stock, select batches and allocate products to customers – saving a substantial amount of time and effort.

Optimize customer service

Customer service queries often monopolize hours of employees’ time, as they manually search for the information required to resolve issues. An automated process can capture information from customer queries and collate all the relevant information that may be needed to investigate these queries. This data is then passed on to employees, who can reply to customers and resolve issues much faster with all the relevant information at hand.

A self-service portal could even be created for routine customer requests, such as checking stock levels or order details. In times like these, customers will appreciate speedy service and support; and many businesses are looking to optimize the customer experience to the maximum extent possible.

Best practices for implementation

While the advantages of automation are clear, it can be taxing to adopt new technologies while conducting business as usual.

To streamline digital transformation and ensure new software investments deliver maximum value, innovation should ideally begin at the process level. This involves bringing business and IT together to identify working methods that are slowing operations down; and then exploring how automation can be used to reduce human effort and decrease risk.

When selecting the most appropriate technologies, agility and speed are key criteria. With tools that reduce software development cycles, digital assets can be deployed with speed and flexibility, to suit a rapidly evolving manufacturing and supply chain ecosystem.

Innovation in a challenging world

When automation technology is scaled through the manufacturing enterprise, companies can maximize productivity and minimize human error through touchless processing. This supports a wide range of business goals, from cutting costs and serving customers better to increasing output quality and speed.

Process automation tools that run processes and data management from one central platform will also help to make global manufacturing enterprises more resilient in a world where social distancing and travel limitations may be the norm for some time to come. This approach provides employees who are working in different geographic locations with the tools to collaborate and contribute to a more sustainable and robust organization.

While it may seem counterintuitive to focus on innovation now – companies that stick with the same old approaches and technologies may find their businesses are no longer relevant when the global economy recuperates.

Manufacturers Accelerate Automation in Wake of COVID-19
Burley Kawasaki

About the Author:
Burley Kawasaki is a software industry veteran with over 25 years of experience working in leading high-technology and cloud-based companies. As Chief Product Officer, Burley leads K2’s global product management and software engineering organization and is responsible for K2’s product innovation, design, and development as the company continues to drive digital transformation initiatives across enterprises.

www.k2.com