In 2018, JD.com, the Chinese ecommerce company, launched a fully automated warehouse in Shanghai. It is equipped with 20 industrial robots that perform all tasks, from packing the inventory to transferring it, with no human assistance or supervision.
This example only proves that the manufacturing processes have become more sophisticated with the evolution of IoT, machine learning, and automation. These technologies help manufacturing companies of all shapes and sizes optimize their performance, maximize revenue, reduce costs, and boost customer satisfaction.
Here are five inevitable types of technology every manufacturing company should invest in.
MRP SOFTWARE FOR AUTOMATING TASKS
When planning and sourcing resources, you need to pay attention to many factors, such as your suppliers, basic material makers, market demand, and so forth. Now, if you are still using Excel spreadsheets, staying on top of this data would be immensely difficult.
To maximize your resource planning efforts, you will need to invest in cloud-based manufacturing software. MRP tools connect and streamline all aspects of your manufacturing process, from raw material procurement and inventory management all the way through sales and customer relationship management. With their help you can centralize your tasks, automate many manufacturing processes, track your data from different devices, and back your data up easier.
Above all, you will plan your inventory more strategically to avoid overselling or overproducing. Having the right amount of products in your stock will keep your customers happy and, at the same time, avoid inventory waste.
QUALITY ASSURANCE TOOLS
Quality assurance is one of the most significant aspects of the manufacturing process. When done manually, quality assurance means that an employee needs to test every product and make sure it meets industry standards. This is an extremely complex process that consists of many repetitive tasks and, as such, it is prone to human error.
To prevent that, you should invest in machine vision technologies that will scan for product imperfections that are not visible to the human eye. They use cameras that rely on machine learning to categorize inventory in warehouses and scan for product flaws during the QA process.
Blockchain can also boost quality assurance. Back in 2017, Walmart and nine food conglomerates teamed with IBM. The idea was to use blockchain to maximize food safety and the results were amazing. Walmart emphasized that blockchain helped them minimize the time needed to track mango shipments from 7 days to 2 seconds.
To reduce costs, save time, and maximize performance, many businesses are shifting from the traditional human workforce to warehouse robots. While humans are still essential for your business, robots can make their jobs faster and easier. Their main disadvantage lies in their price. Namely, the average cost of a warehouse robot is $35,000, meaning that these technologies are still not affordable to small manufacturing businesses.
One of the most popular examples of companies using robots in warehouses is, unsurprisingly, Amazon. Namely, they acquired Kiva systems that created the very first warehouse robots. Ever since then, we have been witnessing an explosion of robotics startups that focus on warehousing. Amazon itself uses over 200,000 robots working in 50 of its warehouses.
IT (Information Technology) uses hardware, software, and communications to store, process, and output data. Operational technology (OT) manages, monitors, automates, and controls industrial operations, focusing on physical equipment and its processes. While IT and OT are two separate practices, the line between them is fading due to shared cybersecurity responsibilities. This may benefit your business in multiple ways, including improved productivity and data security. Above all, you will be able to analyze performance data faster and make informed decisions.
The OT stack includes Industrial Control Systems (ICS). Control systems further include supervisory control and data acquisition systems (SCADA), human-machine interfaces (HMIs), and programmable logic controllers (PLCs). Distributed control systems (DCS), Remote Terminal Units (RTUs), and Variable Frequency Drives (VFD) are also types of OT used in the industrial sector.
Most industrial machines are automated by programmable logic controllers. Many industrial giants like Siemens or Schneider offer PLC technologies. Unfortunately, they can still be too expensive for smaller and mid-sized businesses.
ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE IN R&D
The research and design phase is crucial for the success of your manufacturing business. To automate this process, reduce iteration time, and improve hypothesis testing, many manufacturing businesses have started investing in technologies like 3D printing, AI, or robotics.
3D printing is a prototyping type of technology, used by designers wanting to know how their final product would look like before they start developing it. Augmented and virtual reality could take the R&D processes to the next level, as they will streamline the prototyping process and reduce the need for 3D printing.
OVER TO YOU
While “lights-out” manufacturing businesses that operate with no human supervision still seem like a sci-fi movie to most SMBs, there are many tech innovations that may give your manufacturing business a competitive advantage. And, I hope the aforementioned examples will serve as a solid starting point for you.