Improve Productivity in Manufacturing With These 5 Proven Technologies

By: on November 8, 2018

Manufacturers have reached the point of diminishing returns with traditional improvements to production. Now, they’re turning to technology for a competitive edge.

Gartner forecasts that small businesses adoptions will make up 80 percent of enterprise resource planning (ERP) growth in the next three years—just one example of the digital transformation smaller manufacturers are experiencing. (Full content available to clients.)

Manufacturing managers with knowledge about the latest technology that boosts production efficiency, innovation and flexibility will outpace competitors that are late adopters.

Below, we outline the five technologies shown to have the greatest impact on production efficiency.

Postmodern ERP Centralizes All Your Valuable Data

Depending on your size and sophistication, there are multiple ways to handle core manufacturing duties. It turns out that when looking at the hundreds of buyers who call Software Advice each year, almost half of them are using manual methods like spreadsheets.

These buyers are looking to automate the tedious daily tasks or enable new capabilities, such as tracking assets, materials and finished products. Others need to improve efficiency and productivity through new workflows to keep up with growing demand.

You’ll notice that a significant portion of manufacturers use a combination of systems to manage their production floors—and that’s the key idea behind a postmodern ERP.

  • A traditional ERP serves as an all-in-one product including manufacturing capabilities alongside administrative functions such as human resources, marketing and distribution.
  • A postmodern ERP is an approach in which your business pieces together all the necessary features from disparate products and integrates them to meet your needs.

To put it another way: A traditional ERP system is like the new car you buy every 10 years. A postmodern ERP system is like owning the same car indefinitely, but with various components that can easily be changed out as needed.

How Does It Improve Productivity? A postmodern ERP strategy allows companies to choose user-friendly systems with the functionality they need for each key department. When integrated correctly, this drastically improves communication, agility and the speed at which tasks can be completed.

Industrial Internet of Things Collects Real-Time Machine Data

Data analysis and automation are the future of manufacturing, and the industrial internet of things (IIoT) serves as the bridge to lead you there.

Simply put, the IIoT involves attaching sensor technology to nearly any type of machinery or equipment to gather data and to remotely monitor or control its functions.

Internet of Things Components

IIoT technology has revolutionary impacts in retail, health care, facilities management and many other industries. For manufacturing, this impact comes in the form of connectivity and the value of leveraging production data.

As we’ll see below, IIoT helps to automate a predictive maintenance strategy: Sensors are used to eliminate occasional spot checks on assets and stream condition data in real time.

This shows you when a critical production machine is beginning to overheat, starting to vibrate too much or is dropping in air pressure too quickly, which would automatically generate a work order.

How Does It Improve Productivity? IIoT technology creates the connections necessary to see the true condition of your production assets in real time and collect massive amounts of data to analyze.

Analytics Translates Data Into Useful Insights

Breaking down all the data you generate from production every day is incredibly valuable. Other technologies in this article can help collect and store the information, but analytics is the tool to make sense of it all.

Whether you use a traditional ERP or you’ve pieced together a postmodern ERP, analytics should be a part of the puzzle.

An ERP dashboard, like this one from IQMS, uses collected data to illustrate the health of assets, important production KPIs and their financial impact (Source)

There are multiple approaches your business can take, given your resources and the software tools you opt for: You might build an interactive dashboard or generate static reports to deliver to stakeholders. Some software vendors provide solutions that use AI to derive useful insights and suggested actions from your data.

However you use analytics, the approach you should take depends on your business goals, such as improving quality or extending the life of your assets with a more proactive maintenance plan.

How Does It Improve Productivity? Data analytics for manufacturing is the only way to turn huge volumes of data into useful insights to eliminate production bottlenecks and enable a more efficient predictive maintenance strategy, which keeps machines operating longer.

Predictive Maintenance Prevents Costly Production Downtime

The concept of predictive maintenance isn’t new, but the tools used to perform it have become much more robust. Using the real condition of an asset to plan maintenance can be performed without technology, but it certainly isn’t recommended. By using ERP, IoT and analytics tools in concert, you can automate this process in this way:

  • IoT devices are attached to critical production machines.
  • The devices stream real-time condition data directly to the ERP.
  • The production and maintenance teams can analyze historical trends around breakdowns and frequency of repairs.

The result? You can wait for the asset to warn you when a failure is imminent, generate a work order and fix the machine before it fails. This keeps repair costs lower and ensures repairs are completed before a failure unexpectedly shuts down your operations.

The yellow fields in this eMaint CMMS screenshot allow users to establish thresholds for asset conditions, triggering a work order when they are exceeded (Source)

The benefits of a proactive, predictive maintenance strategy are well-known, but many manufacturers lack the details to get buy-in or a solid implementation plan necessary to make it successful. We have examples of four sensor types that detect early failure signs, tips to get approval for new technology and a predictive maintenance ROI calculator.

How Does It Improve Productivity? A predictive maintenance strategy, where repairs are done prior to a failure, is shown to reduce machine breakdowns by up to 75 percent versus a traditional reactive maintenance plan, which keeps production lines moving.

Additive Manufacturing (3D Printing) Reveals New Revenue Opportunities and Savings

Like some other technologies on this list, additive manufacturing—the application of 3D printing in production—is more and more affordable for smaller companies.

Every industry will be disrupted by 3D printing sooner or later,” according to Gartner. “With disruption comes cost-saving and revenue-generating opportunities. However, the implementation of 3DP technology is not a simple process—it requires intensive and sometimes lengthy testing and development.” (Full content available to clients.)

3D printing may not make sense right now for every manufacturer. But when a technology is inevitable, the timing of adoption is critical. The sooner you begin testing, the more likely you’ll find new revenue and cost-cutting opportunities.

Here are four proven benefits of 3D printing:

Cost savings on production Manufacturers can significantly reduce inventory costs by 3D printing specific low-volume parts more cheaply.
Print maintenance parts Instead of paying to carry spare parts in inventory, 3D printing can be used to create a small number of high-value parts (or replace discontinued parts).
New revenue streams 3D printing provides companies with new opportunities to serve customers. For example, its speed and precision enables new products with features that would be too expensive to produce traditionally.
Increased agility Opportunities to produce short runs of highly specific products and mass customization are boosted, while quick prototyping means you’ll risk losing less money if the idea doesn’t work.

How Does It Improve Productivity? Additive manufacturing not only unlocks opportunities to drive productivity on new product lines, but its ability to quickly and cheaply print spare or hard-to-find parts for maintenance keeps production machines operating longer.

How Can I Learn More?

Even if you’re currently capable of managing your manufacturing productivity and don’t need to implement new technology, being aware of these tools and how they impact your operations gives you an advantage over competitors when it’s time to adopt.

Here are some next steps to take:

  • Create a technology roadmap with relevant teams. Before investing in new technology, gather your leaders from production and maintenance to identify long-term business goals. Match the benefits described above to your goals and prioritize the technology that will deliver efficiency boosts quickly—These early wins can add momentum for new technology adoptions.
  • Did you identify a technology that will boost your productivity? You can read real-user reviews for core manufacturing systems and ERPs, as well as more niche software, that include (or can integrate with) these capabilities.
  • Would you like a hand in your search for manufacturing technology? Call our manufacturing software advisors at (855) 998-8505 for a free consultation—They’re able to narrow down a list of providers based on your specific business needs in 15 minutes or less.

Note: The information contained in this article has been obtained from sources believed to be reliable. The applications selected are examples to show a feature in context, and are not intended as endorsements or recommendations.

You may also like:

How Additive Manufacturing Improves Maintenance Management

What’s the Difference Between Predictive Maintenance and Preventive Maintenance?

Postmodern ERP: What It Is and Why It’s Important

Find Manufacturing Software That Supports These Technologies