Get Set for Tech Transformation with the Right Manufacturing Investments

December 8, 2017

Data and automation reign king in this age of Industry 4.0 — and it’s more important than ever to know how and when to make the right manufacturing investments.

When considering the cost of action vs. the consequences of passing on the latest innovation, there can be classic FOMO: Fear of Missing Out. Early adopters may not have proven results to quantify their investment yet. But laggards risk losing major market share.

“The digital transformation that we know will hit manufacturing is still in early stages, generating plenty of optimism but dribbles of documented use-case data,” according to IndustryWeek.

Weigh potential costs and payoffs carefully, but look at how tools like Internet of Things (IoT), robotics and automation can enhance productivity and efficiency.

Problems and Outcomes: Weigh It Out

Don’t get caught up in every “must-have” moment of excitement. As with other investments, identify problems you need to solve and the measurable outcomes you want to produce. Ask the following about tools, software and platforms:

  • How can this technology help your firm accomplish goals?
  • How long will it take the investment to produce the desired savings or efficiency?
  • Can other technologies beat that time — or come along and render this one obsolete?
  • Will this require training, eliminate jobs or create new ones?

First Things First: Sure Bets

Data-driven ROI can be scarce on the newest innovations. So, while their worth is still being established, turn to sure-fire tools like these.

  • Data: Today’s industry leaders need to use data to streamline operations and make day-to-day tasks more efficient. By investing in cloud-based solutions, you can use data to enhance your equipment life and performance, operations and supply chains. You may end up at a big disadvantage over the next couple of years if you don’t adopt basic enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems, IoT sensors and data analytics.
  • Cobots: Collaborative robots, also known as cobots, are also on the rise. Increasingly flexible and affordable, cobots allow manufacturers of any size to automate specific operations with ease. Small robots with plug-and-play capabilities can work beside humans on an assembly line and perform repetitive tasks. They can address labor shortages, optimize the use of your workforce, and offer a fast return on investment, according to Automation World.
  • 3-D printing: Consider also investing in 3-D printing to design and test your latest prototypes. It immediately speeds up your design process to reduce costs and bring products to market faster. The technology has been around for a while, but newer industrial printers can create larger objects made of steel, aluminum, copper, bronze and titanium.

What’s Next in Tech?

Focus on the investments that will solve your most pressing challenges today, but keep an eye on what’s next, including augmented reality and artificial intelligence.

Augmented reality is already being used (often in conjunction with IoT) to enhance worker safety and productivity, according to IndustryWeek. Workers use augmented reality devices to see virtual-reality overlaid onto real objects, eliminating guesswork and offering more effective ways for technicians to make assessments and perform tasks.

Artificial intelligence — along with robotics, 3-D printing and IoT — will help some manufacturers use smaller production facilities located closer to consumers, shortening delivery times, Forbes reported.

That’s just one example of what experts predict for the factory of the future. It will be a place where the human workforce operates hand-in-hand with machines to save time, increase safety and produce better products.

By assessing the newest technologies against your company’s goals, leaders in the manufacturing industry can understand how to avoid investing in the wrong things and the fear of missing out in the constantly evolving marketplace.

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