How digitalisation can impact business success
Remodelling your kitchen, converting your loft and adding an extension all help improve the value of your home. In business, methods to improve value are a lot less clear. However, by digitalising and increasing the amount of automation in a facility, manufacturers can increase their chances of business success. Here Sophie Hand, UK country team leader at industrial equipment supplier EU Automation, discusses how businesses can add value with digitalisation.
Industry 4.0 technologies, particularly the Internet of Things (IoT) have opened a world of opportunity for manufacturing businesses. The number of connected devices is only set to increase – it is predicted to grow 140 per cent to 50 billion in 2022, according to Juniper Research. The IoT provides businesses with more insight than ever before on customer behaviour, manufacturing processes and maintenance trends.
With more data, increased connectivity and the option to transfer tasks traditionally performed by humans to a more accurate, reliable and continuously running option —robots — businesses can dramatically improve productivity, efficiency and reduce waste. According to McKinsey, automation can cut storage, picking and sorting costs by ten to 30 per cent in a distribution centre. McKinsey also explains that these activities can account for 40 per cent of costs in a distribution centre, so the savings really will add up in warehousing applications.
For a business to remain competitive, it must leverage the available technology to innovate, improve customer service, reduce operational costs and grow their margins. In some cases, this can involve a company changing its entire business model, for example from product-based to servitised. But what is the best approach to digitalisation?
Part of the digitalisation challenge is making sense of all the options. From artificial intelligence to edge-computing, there is a myriad of technology available that promises to help a business grow and improve. To achieve the best result, a manufacturing business should take an overarching view of the business and identify which technology will help them to meet a specific goal, rather than taking a scattergun approach or only addressing a problem when it arises.
For example, predictive maintenance is an extremely valuable tool to reduce maintenance costs and downtime. If a company is focussed on improving productivity, cutting unplanned downtime can play a surprisingly large role in this. By identifying the machinery that is most at risk of breakdown, as well as the machinery that is most critical to operations, manufacturers can then connect equipment to the IoT and to the cloud to perform analytics functions. This means that they can remotely access the information needed to predict a breakdown in advance, reducing unplanned downtime with just a small investment. Instead of dealing with the problem reactively, the manufacturer can order a replacement part proactively from a reliable industrial equipment supplier and have it arrive in advance of a breakdown.
In another situation, it may be that assemblies are produced on an automated conveyor belt system but must be manually transported between lines. In this case, the business could speed up the process and increase accuracy by incorporating an autonomous guided vehicle (AGV). The specific challenges the manufacturer is experiencing, alongside the overall business objectives, should highlight areas where digital change will benefit most.
For a digitalisation project to be successful, it should be based on the business’ core objectives and on data from the factory floor or customer insights. Without this, the company will lack the deep understanding needed for business improvement. EU Automation recommends taking proactive, strategic action to digitalise and automate for business value — it can actually be more straightforward than remodelling your kitchen, converting your loft or adding an extension.