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How technology is helping manufacturers come out of COVID stronger

By Paul Williams, Director

Here at Highstream Solutions, we have a history of working with manufacturing businesses. An industry that’s going through rapid change as the fourth industrial revolution gains momentum, and one we’re excited to work within so we can really flex our technological muscles.

This year has been a difficult one for most businesses and industries in one way or another, and manufacturing has been no exception. After three years of uncertainty surrounding Brexit negotiations, which are still ongoing, the COVID-19 pandemic was the final nail in the coffin for many manufacturers, particularly for those that failed to embrace digital manufacturing and Industry 4.0.

Opportunity knocks

As Albert Einstein once said: In the middle of difficulty lies opportunity.

Although economic pressures brought on by the pandemic have slowed investment in digital factories, those businesses who can seize the opportunity will overtake their competitors. Recent research from Deloitte said that despite everything going on, 62% of global manufacturing leaders say they are investing in digital factory plans and even beefing up that spend, and it’s this approach to doing business that has led them to become leaders in their fields – seeing situations like this as an opportunity.

Opportunity lies in many places and conducting a full audit of your processes and equipment is key to establishing these. Look at the areas that aren’t performing efficiently, the equipment or systems that are costing money but aren’t delivering a strong return on investment, identify the areas where you can trim the fat and the areas you need to invest in to help make your business future-proof.

How to use technology in manufacturing to save costs

Technological advancement across manufacturing through advanced sensing, asset intelligence and advancements in planning and supply chain management can result in higher performance and greater efficiencies as well as lower plant and power consumption, meaning significant cost savings in the long run.

Technology unlocks efficiencies within factory environments, through monitoring of materials, equipment and resource.  From data captured on the shop floor (barcode, RFID) relating to production tasks and stock levels to analysis of resource performance against key tasks, management can visualise and regulate production times and costs in real time. 

Integration of a factory system with more traditional administrative and financial systems streamlines information flow throughout the business.  HR and Accounting systems can both take input and benefit from integration with the factory, feeding off staff tasks and timings and stock holdings.  Bringing your purchasing team closer to the raw materials and components supply can be rewarding.  Scheduling of resource can be adjusted to meet changing demand, delivering fresh instruction to resources as needs arise, as well as improving health and safety practices in real time.

Tracking factory tasks and materials is a core focus but connecting entire buildings to technology infrastructure has many associated benefits. Connectivity throughout a plant allows for environmental sensors to report on and dictate heat, light and power delivery as needed.

Building digital-ready manufacturing plants for Industry 4.0

To be able to do all this, businesses need to have digital-ready plants and facilities to enable them to really excel. It’s important to ensure a cohesive approach across new and existing equipment, IT systems and infrastructure as well as any multi-site considerations or supply chain considerations to ensure synergy across the board.

We’ve worked with clients in the manufacturing industry to integrate and deliver high quality and secure connectivity throughout their manufacturing facilities and moved them onto highly secure cloud-based systems.

By installing wireless network coverage across sites, including external yard spaces, all their equipment can ‘speak’ seamlessly, giving management a birds-eye view across the entirety of their operations as well as being able to drill down to minute detail.

This integrated approach means they’re able to access, manipulate and react to the data they need from wherever they need to work. They’re able to work across teams, and with clients and suppliers digitally, ridding themselves of paper blueprints and written approval processes, co-ordinating the most productive order of operations, and using their equipment to order exactly what they need, therefore reducing waste through using materials in the most efficient way.  

The added bonus of these cloud-based and collaborative systems meant during the pandemic they’ve been able to work with less people on-site, but still maintain a collaborative working environment with no negative effects on productivity.

It’s only because of the pandemic that some businesses are seeing the need for this approach and are working in a reactive way rather than having foresight and working proactively to ensure their future success.

Coming out of COVID smarter and stronger

Even though the majority of manufacturers would not have planned for a worldwide pandemic, business plans and strategy formed at the start of the year now residing in the recycle bin, if there was ever a time for lessons to be learnt about forward-planning and being prepared for the future, COVID-19 has been that catalyst to bringing industry into the future.

If you’re looking for an experienced partner to help streamline your manufacturing business, don’t just take our word for it – check out some of our case studies and then get in touch if you’d like to find out more.