Manufacturing ‘curate’s egg’

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I read the 2017 Annual Manufacturing Report* with a mixture of hope and disappointment.

Written, I’m guessing, before the snap General Election was called, it reflected on how well manufacturing was prevailing despite political and economic uncertainty caused by Brexit and the Presidential elections.

It spoke of how some manufacturers had exploited the drop in the pound post Brexit to boost exports and how others had been able to increase UK sales as their products suddenly became more competitive. The report also reflected on the ongoing skills shortage and little fresh blood being trained into the industry. The fact that over half of respondents claimed a lack of skills stopped them investing and implementing information and communications technology (ICT) solutions only confirmed what I already surmised; there’s a real lack of capability in-house with cloud-based technologies.

Yes, there was a lot of positivity in the Report on how manufacturers are investing in connectivity, 3D printing, automation and servitization. It was also heartening to hear that 71% of respondents spent more on IT than the previous year but it’s where they’re spending that concerns me, as well as the seeming lack of senior management buy-in. I was disappointed that supply chain management ranked nowhere in terms of important ICT to improve businesses.

How can that be in a global industry said to waste around $900 billion† in its supply chain? Where visibility is less than complete at every point in the supply chain there is the chance that real inefficiencies are lurking. Increasing efficiency, particularly where materials handling, energy and labour costs are concerned, is so much easier with visibility of not only individual processes but also of a network of connected devices across the entire ecosystem of the business. Indeed, every visible asset or event that can be identified and placed in context offers the potential to be improved.

Manufacturers need to know what’s happening all around them and what we’re seeing is that much of the data linked to production processes sits in disparate silos. While some of it might be accessible centrally, the actual asset-tracking device frequently lacks real-time capability so perspective is historical rather than current.

Not being able to harness such information is inefficient and if manufacturers could capture that data and convert it into actionable information that gave them full visibility of the supply chain then they could streamline their process and move towards optimal production. 

Enterprises need to give their physical assets such as printers and scanners a digital profile that gives their location and condition in real-time. By having complete visibility of the interdependence and relationship between items, processes and people, and the transactions taking place, enterprises can then move one step closer towards achieving true manufacturing visibility.

Enterprise asset intelligence is all about delivering visibility that will help manufacturers improve both their productivity and customer experience by sensing, analysing and driving business actions. Using Asset Visibility Services (AVS) and Operational Visibility Services (OVS) like those developed by Zebra and delivered by us means manufacturers could get a real sense of what was happening in their enterprise and enable them to simplify and improve their operations.

My hope is that there is a groundswell shift in opinion and that supply chain management rises up the ladder in terms of investment priorities for ICT solutions. My hope is that we, as IT providers, can convince more senior managers of the need to buy-in to making such changes and the returns they can make on those investments. And don’t even get me started on the fact that RFID also didn’t rank at all in the Annual Report as a means to improve business!

*Hennik Group 2017

† IDC Manufacturing Insights

Pete Laplanche

Out in warehouses and back offices, barcode printers remain the unsung heroes of the supply chain. Board director of Datatrade, Peter Laplanche, has spent 30 years communicating the importance of these mission critical devices, from early matrix printers to the latest mobiles. The brave new world of omni-channel requires even greater visibility and agility in track and trace, and label barcoding is…

Comments (1)

  1. Chemplast Inc:
    Jul 03, 2017 at 08:54 AM

    Thank you for sharing this… This is useful for people in the manufacturing industry.

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