How an adaptive manufacturing enterprise is essential for helping to prepare for change in a world filled with constant disruption.

Change is a constant in manufacturing. How can you prepare?
Change is a constant in manufacturing. How can you prepare?

By Tony Winter

We are living in a world of disruption. Some would say that this has always been the case, but it is clearly intensifying. Change is happening at a faster and faster pace. Change also comes in many forms; it is an inevitable part of life and can often feel uncomfortable. But negotiating it requires imagination, challenging the status quo and understanding what drives it.

There are two types of change. The first is unforeseen change. These are things that never crossed your mind, the kind that blindside you at 4 p.m. on some idle Tuesday afternoon! For example, our current situation with COVID-19 or the Fukushima disaster following the tsunami that hit the coast of Japan in March 2011. The tsunami, caused by an earthquake off the Japanese coast, created significant disruption in the automotive supply chain, forcing some global automotive plants to temporarily shut down.

The second is foreseen change – this is something you know, something you can predict or forecast, something you can adapt to over time. Dealing with foreseen change is like looking through a telescope and seeing a future destination. There are uncertainties on the journey that need to be proven out, but the destination is within sight.

It is no surprise that one of the most significant forms of foreseen change is technology. Competition drives change, but technology fuels it. For example, newer technologies like blockchain and the Internet of Things (IoT) or a technology-driven industry innovation like electric vehicles can have a profound effect on multiple industries and thousands of companies. Here are some of the technology-driven themes that will be impacting manufacturers tomorrow – are you prepared for the disruption they cause?

Being adaptive and agile is the key to dealing with constant disruption in manufacturing.
Being adaptive and agile is the key to dealing with constant disruption in manufacturing.
  1. Everything is becoming connected. Be it people, systems or equipment, this is leading to an explosion in communication efficiencies that are driving faster and more effective decision making. We see the growth in social collaboration tools giving the benefit of breaking down the inefficiencies of communication and increasing the agility within an organization. This has seeded new capabilities like chat, activity tracking and event notifications – all streamlining the communication processes at all levels of the organization. The response to the COVID-19 pandemic, specifically the need for people to work remotely, has supercharged the growth in communications technology. My company now does entire software implementations remotely, and it is amazing how quickly QAD and our customers have adapted.
  2. The rise of connected equipment driven by Internet of Things (IoT) technology. Connected intelligent products lead to the emergence of a new understanding of how your customers are using your products. They can also lead to new ways of doing business, like turning a product into a pay-per-use offering often termed, Anything as a Service (XaaS). Connected equipment on the shop floor provides greater visibility on equipment status, efficiency and usage. All this can help toward improved traceability and production efficiency. Is your ERP solution agile enough to let you take advantage of this new connectivity? Does it provide a seamless experience between manufacturing operations? Do you get work center equipment status, production status and operator status with tight integration and real-time visibility back to the ERP system?
  3. The rapid growth and speed with which data flows. Through improvements over connectivity, there is an ever-widening river of new data. In fact, data has become the new gold as it relates to its value in our world today. It is beginning to dominate every industry and with new technologies that handle large data volumes, rich data visualization tools and machine learning technology managers now have the pillars for intelligent decision making. The key term here is ‘decision making’, because that is the job you’re trying to achieve when using analytics. But applications are evolving to a new level of intelligence, leveraging machine learning technologies, where they can inform you better of the decisions you should be making – in essence, become prescriptive.
  4. A final key technology trend is Effective User Experiences. Time is money, as they say, and how effective an individual can be, and how the tools that they’re using helps them to be effective is becoming more and more critical. For example, your ERP should be intuitive to use, consistent and help the individual user make the best use of their time. A consistent application provides familiarity and simplifies the onboarding of new users and their ability to learn new tasks throughout the system. Learning new ways of delivering just-in-time contextual training, like those used in mobile apps, is essential to delivering education at scale within your organization and overcoming the traditional onboarding challenge of new employees, or even just to serve as a reminder of how to do those infrequently performed tasks. Also, the ability to personalize the experience specific to a company’s business goals improves an individual’s productivity using the most efficient medium. Whether it is via desktop, tablet or mobile device, all drive to an intelligent and agile workforce. When a user’s tasks are so repetitive and mundane we can now leverage ‘bots’ to do these repetitive tasks for you. Using Robotic Process Automation (RPA) technology can allow your users to focus on higher-value tasks within their organization.

These are the main technology themes that I think manufacturing companies should be tracking and preparing for. Being able to adapt to foreseeable change is all about preparing for the future based on what we know today. Being an Adaptive Manufacturing Enterprise is essential for being effective today with the agility to adapt to whatever tomorrow brings.

tony winter qad
Tony Winter

Tony Winter is the CTO for QAD and oversees a global team of research and development personnel, manages the technical relationships for all QAD partners and lead QAD’s latest technology innovations.