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Manufacturers have had an uneasy past two years. Disruptions early in the pandemic nearly brought production to a halt in some areas, and now, supply chain shortages plague the industry.
Building materials have seen some of the most dramatic shortages, with 94% of surveyed builders struggling to find framing lumber. Electronics manufacturers and those relying on them have struggled, too. The automotive industry stands to lose $61 billion this year due to semiconductor shortages.
Other materials and parts in short supply include palm oil, plastics, corn, steel, and chlorine.
The Causes Behind Manufacturing Supply Shortages
There are many factors behind these shortages, most of them sprouting from the pandemic. Economic downturns and worksite restrictions have stopped or slowed many processes like farming, mining, and parts production globally. Even as these obstacles fade, these producers of materials and parts find themselves with considerable backlogs, leading to ongoing shortages.
A surge in demand has compounded these supply issues. General manufacturing demand was already increasing, with U.K. consumers alone spending more than $1.6 billion online weekly in 2019. E-commerce skyrocketed further amid the pandemic, and on the commercial side, many manufacturers rushed to meet previous production levels, outpacing their still-struggling suppliers.
International travel restrictions have also made shipping slower and more expensive, exacerbating the crisis.
Strategies for Mitigating Supply Issues
While there is no silver bullet for these supply shortages in manufacturing, several steps can mitigate their impact. Manufacturers can also take this opportunity to prepare against future disruptions, avoiding similar situations. Here are three leading strategies for navigating these supply issues.
1. Improving Visibility
One of the most crucial changes to make is to increase visibility across the supply chain. Internet of things (IoT) technology and data analytics programs can give manufacturers more insight into stock levels and developing situations. They can then predict shortages and take steps early to account for them.
Real-time visibility can also help track shipments to give customers a better idea of when they can expect their end products. Over time, this data can inform more accurate predictions and reveal needed workflow changes. Manufacturers can then become more resilient against supply chain issues.
2. Diversifying Sources
In manufacturing, many facilities tend to source from a single supplier. While this minimizes costs, it also intensifies shortages when disruptions arise. Manufacturers can lessen the impact of slowdowns and other unexpected issues by diversifying their sources.
Much like how Amazon uses artificial intelligence (AI) to keep merchandise close to consumers, manufacturers can analyze data to find ideal nearby sources. Domestic or near-short suppliers will produce fewer disruptions in a crisis as there’s less distance and fewer regulations involved. Using multiple suppliers will further reduce shortages by removing dependencies.
3. Turning to Alternatives
Some manufacturers have found relative success in using alternative materials to account for shortages. For example, some construction material companies have switched to unconventional insulation materials in the face of petroleum shortages. Manufacturers may be able to adjust processes to use novel or less-common materials to maintain production.
If facilities take this route, being transparent with customers is crucial. End products may have different qualities or incur higher prices with new materials, so manufacturers must be upfront about these changes. They may cause initial disruptions but can mitigate persistent issues with conventional parts.
Manufacturing Must Adapt Amid Widespread Shortages
Given the prevalence and severity of these shortages, they won’t likely go away soon. It will take time for production to fulfill backlogs and meet demand. On the positive side, this increased demand indicates healthy industry growth, but manufacturers must prevent similar crises in the future.
Since these shortages are multifaceted issues, no one solution will fix them. Adopting a multi-step approach, including implementing new technologies for visibility and adjusting sourcing methods, is essential. The industry faces significant obstacles right now, but these will inspire positive change for the future.
*This article is written by Devin Partida. Devin is a tech writer with an interest in IIoT and manufacturing. She is also the Editor-in-Chief of ReHack.com.
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If you find yourself attached to your legacy software and hardware in your manufacturing operation, you’re not alone. Old habits die hard, as they say, but the technological revolution sweeping industries right now necessitates changes and updates. It might be time to update your legacy systems; but how do you know if it’s really the right time to invest?
Digital systems and advancements in tech from artificial intelligence to the Internet of Things (IoT) are powering new possibilities in business. In manufacturing, IoT alone offers powerful solutions through data gathering, supply chain innovation, product and performance assessments, and much more. These connected devices drive insights that would be impossible otherwise, making their integration a valuable investment for most manufacturers.
With benefits like this stemming from new tech, it’s likely time to leave your legacy system behind and adopt new tools. Recognize the value of an update, then explore these tips for updating your legacy system.
Recognizing when it’s time to update
Facing economic problems in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic, technology has come to play a more vital role in all our lives than ever before. From supply chains to individual office workers, the need for adaptive, connected systems is pressing to meet the needs of our global economy and correct problems where they occur. If your tech isn’t serving you at any point in your process, it’s time to update.
Begin with a process map. This is an illustration of your systems that highlights objectives, histories, successes, and failings. With a map laid out of your tech and tools, you can assess a visual model of your process to more easily explore how to make beneficial improvements.
From there, you can ask a series of questions regarding your legacy systems:
- Does our process generate useful data?
- What process information are we failing to gather?
- Is there still sufficient support for our legacy system?
- Where are we experiencing stalled growth or spending money to maintain our system?
- What are our options in the world of digital advancements?
By answering these questions, you’ll map out the flaws of your legacy system and begin to understand how modern tech can improve your productivity and workflows. From supply chain and production transparency to factory floor safety, tools like IoT and AI can revolutionize your process. Once you understand the need for an update, then it’s time to take the necessary steps to implement one.
How to update a legacy system
How you go about updating your legacy system depends on the nature and goals of your particular business model. In manufacturing, this often means ramping up production while eliminating downtime and inventory management issues.
Fortunately, modernizing your system doesn’t have to be difficult. You can achieve a clear plan for advancement in three simple steps. These are: assessing your current system, considering digital solutions, and creating a strategy.
Developing and integrating this plan, however, is typically more challenging. After all, you’ll face the issues of adapting your legacy system to new tools while training your team to make full use of a data-powered, streamlined process. These tips can help you take your plan to update your legacy system from a recognized need to a streamlined, revenue-boosting process.
1. Define the data you need to gather.
When it comes to data, the more the better. That said, there are some vital metrics you’ll want to track to understand how you can improve your process. Look for software and tools that can help you monitor metrics like job cost, labor hours, materials costs, machine downtime and efficiency, and rate of error.
2. Explore scalable, secure solutions.
With an understanding of the data you need to track, explore tools that can help you get there. Machine tools, connected systems, and sensors can all offer invaluable insights into the performance and function of your process. The world of industrial IoT gets better all the time, with 5G wireless connectivity allowing for more and better communication of data in real-time. Scalable data collection is one element of your digital transformation journey you should not neglect, so find tools that allow for growth.
3. Keep it simple.
Updating your legacy system can lead to problems if it mires your workflow in too much complexity. Fortunately, modern software solutions allow manufacturers to streamline their insights into a single, comprehensive dashboard. With the ability to track all your key metrics in one place, you can more easily gain insights and generate ideas for flexibly adopting new solutions.
4. Focus on communication.
When it comes to manufacturing performance, communication is key. Systems must be able to interact and communicate from various sites and among suppliers and departments. Without a comprehensive communication network for real-time data transfer, your updates won’t be as effective as they could be.
5. Don’t neglect employee feedback and training.
Any new system can be difficult to manage. Prioritize employee success to ensure the effectiveness of your new tech, and don’t neglect to gather employee feedback from the very beginning stages of your legacy updating process. Learn where workers encounter challenges, features they’d like to see implemented, and problems they face in adapting to new systems.
By following these strategies when it comes time to update your legacy system, you can take your modernization efforts through the assessment to the implementation stages successfully. As a result, you can power a more transparent, productive manufacturing business with the tools in place to support your workers. Such an approach will lead to the agility your business needs to adapt to the rapid changes of a constantly developing world.
Building an agile business
When it comes to adapting legacy systems, maintaining agile methodology can best serve manufacturers. This framework focuses on collaboration, individual solutions, and ongoing improvement. As such, you’ll be able to work with stakeholders, suppliers, workers, and colleagues to produce high-quality products while retaining flexibility.
The COVID-19 pandemic proved the need for such an adaptive approach to manufacturing. By recognizing the importance of updates and following these strategies for implementing a better system, you can resolve the issues of your legacy platforms that are holding you back in the data-driven world.
Don’t let your legacy system drag you down with cost and implementation barriers. The right tools and strategies are available to enhance your manufacturing processes, if only you apply the proper planning, tools, and collaborative efforts.
If you need help analyzing and updating your legacy system, turn to the subject matter experts at USC Consulting Group.
This article is written by guest author Ainsley Lawrence. View more of Ainsley’s articles here.
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Lean manufacturing and Industry 4.0 are in some ways a case in contrasts. The former is a production methodology designed to reduce operational costs through a combination of process efficiencies, a lighter footprint and smart time management. In short, it’s a system of minimizing waste and maximizing productivity through the barest of essentials. According to a recent research report spearheaded by IndustryWeek, lean manufacturing systems is a major priority among manufacturers in the U.S. today, behind only quality management systems.
Industry 4.0 is next-generation technology, which relies heavily on state-of-the-art equipment, tools, data, and analytics to make automation possible. Here, it’s out with the old and in with the new, made possible by investing in industrial practices and smart technology that expedite production and reduce human error. Often, it’s assumed that Industry 4.0 can replace the human element altogether.
So if lean manufacturing aims to reduce operational expenses, while Industry 4.0 typically requires added spending, are the two mutually exclusive? Not necessarily. It is possible for them to coexist when Industry 4.0 tech is leveraged strategically as a supplement to, not a replacement for, your staff.
Originally appearing in the Lean Enterprise Institute’s blog Lean Post, a classic case in point is a company called Denso, which since its inception, has tried to prioritize its people first and foremost. But the company is now also taking advantage of technology to augment their workers’ ongoing performance.
Must be purposeful about IoT utilization
Headquartered in Japan, Denso specializes in automotive components and is perhaps best known for being Toyota’s largest parts supplier. Many companies these days are using the Internet of Things (IoT) technology to improve processes and enhance output. But as Denso North American Production Innovation Center Vice President Raja Shembekar discovered, IoT is all too frequently not put to its full or proper use. In other words, without proper planning, it has no real problem-solving application, at least among the competitors he observed.
Not being strategic and intentional about IoT implementation — and how it can support workers on the shop floor — raises the risk of not obtaining the intended result: improving output, quality, or ideally both.
“Not being strategic and intentional about IoT implementation — and how it can support workers on the shop floor — raises the risk of not obtaining the intended result.”
Concerned that Denso could fall into this tech trap, Raja built a small team composed of quality assurance managers and IoT aficionados to identify where production shortcomings existed and how, if at all, IoT capabilities could potentially fill in the gaps. They found just the thing by placing tiny sensors on cooling fans, which are used to maintain the temperature of brazing ovens for producing aluminum heat exchangers. The placement of said sensors on the fans enabled maintenance workers to swap out fans before they broke, forestalling production issues and avoiding lengthier timelines for parts to be ready for sale.
In short, IoT was able to provide workers with the insight and intelligence they needed to take action as it pertains to installation, supporting their roles. Raja noted that the maintenance team was skeptical about the sensors accurately forecasting when the fans would fall apart, but they played along.
“They took the fan out [and] the blades on the fan had disintegrated,” Raja recounted. “They were totally shocked that they had no idea this was happening and we could provide that prediction.”
As noted by Manufacturing.net, there is a risk in jumping aboard the Industry 4.0 bandwagon, simply because it’s the “in” thing to do. Organizations must first assess what their problems are and whether Industry 4.0 investments can actually solve those issues. This requires a complete assessment of current business processes as they exist and what desired outcomes are if they’re not being realized. Additionally, if Industry 4.0 can optimize the supply chain, as an example, manufacturers must make certain that their supply chain infrastructure can support the adjustments or installations that game-changing technology may entail.
Another way for lean manufacturing and Industry 4.0 to be cohesive is by getting to the bottom of the following question: Does the adoption of machine learning, IoT or some other form of computer-integrated technology supplant or support your team?
Workers expect job losses from AI, just not theirs
The answer will differ for everyone, but what is known is today’s workforce has a love-hate relationship with artificial intelligence. In a 2018 survey conducted by Gallup, approximately 75% of respondents said they anticipate more jobs will be lost than created as a result of AI’s increased adoption. However, only about 1 in 5 — 23% — were worried that their own job was in jeopardy.
While the increased implementation of AI has led to job losses, whether it does or not depends on management philosophy, according to the Lean Enterprise Institute’s blog. A mechanistic approach to business decisions relies heavily on technology, sometimes to the exclusion or replacement of actual workers. From an organic-systems perspective, however — which Raja ascribes — tech takes a backseat to employees who are on the front lines of warehouses, factory floors, and assembly lines.
“Technology provides data that allows the associate and the team leaders at the gemba [factory floor] to provide a far higher level of decision making,” Raja told the Lean Post.
Raja went on to state that at Denso, the addition of Industry 4.0 tech has helped workers make smarter, more well-informed decisions about how to continuously improve and enhance production through PDCA, meaning “Plan-Do-Check-Act.” The goal at Denso is always to leverage tech so it provides work crews with actionable information about the current systems in place so they can react accordingly, not to take those decisions away from them. As Manufacturing.net recommended, it may be worthwhile to perform trial runs of innovative technology to see if it supports or supplants your workforce and where adjustments can be made. In essence, better to “try before you buy.”
For optimal gains when marrying Lean philosophies and Industry 4.0 principles, utilizing an operations management firm may be best. USC Consulting Group has the expertise and experience to help you achieve results by leveraging your existing technology and ensuring that it aligns with your manufacturing philosophy. Please contact us today to learn more about our offerings and how we may be able to help.
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Few innovations have so saturated modern society quite as much as digital has. Perhaps the best example of all is in the consumer products space. From navigation apps, streaming media services, mobile devices, voice assistants and so much more, artificial intelligence tools and features are regularly used by approximately 85% of Americans, according to a 2018 survey conducted by Gallup. And that was three years ago — the percentage has almost assuredly risen considerably since then.
The ubiquitous nature of digitalization has essentially forced businesses to take steps toward incorporating the latest and greatest technologies into their production processes and strategies. Its implementation is evidenced at just about every stage of the supply chain.
Has your company embarked on a digital transformation journey? No matter where your organization is in this shift, there are a few important things to be mindful of to ensure that the changeover is as painless as possible. Be aware of these issues during your company’s digital transformation journey:
1. Transformations don’t always take
Once businesses makes the decision to move forward with a transformation, those who are new to the processes may underestimate how lengthy it all can be – and their chances of finding success. In other words, even though the presumption is going digital naturally increases efficiency, it doesn’t always come to pass.
For example, in 2018, directors, front office executives spent a combined $1.3 trillion on digital transformation initiatives, according to reporting done by Forbes. However, of that total, $900 billion was ill spent, as the transformations never took hold.
Why not? There are plenty of reasons, but as noted by Harvard Business Review, it may have something to do with decision makers’ failure to put the right strategy or mindset in place before the transformation actually begins. Employees — not to mention people, in general — are creatures of habit. Installing new systems and technologies with which they’re unfamiliar can lead to frustration and resentment. That’s why it’s important to establish what workers can anticipate; namely, the changeover may come with some rough patches in the beginning, but the end result will make the challenge worth the effort. Therefore, it is pivotal to define a digital transformation strategy to help evolve your organization, as per digital marketing firm Dash.
2. Provide ongoing training
In a similar vein, digital transformations are described as such because the change is often substantial, even though it may occur pieces at a time to avoid major interruptions in production. That’s why it’s important to ensure staff members have the instructions they need to utilize unfamiliar equipment — and can provide directions to customers who may have the same difficulty making the transition.
A classic example is in the manufacturing space. According to Oxford Economics, the speed with which manufacturers incorporate robotics into their workflows can dramatically enhance production. Indeed, the study found that increasing robot installations by 30% within the next 10 years could lead to a 5.3% uptick in global gross domestic product.
While just about all business decisions are time sensitive, a sudden infusion of robotics can cause confusion and consternation amongst workers, which is part of the reason why digital transformations so often fail. Ongoing training, seminars, and fielding questions from staff is essential to digital adoption so nothing gets lost in translation.
3. Consider a digital transformation consultant
Financial institutions, warehouses, manufacturers, and processing centers have all implemented digital solutions into their workflows in one form or another. While you as an owner must serve as a leader in these efforts, you may not have the level of expertise to effectively answer your workers’ questions. That’s where a digital transformation consultant can be worthwhile. In addition to ensuring work processes go more smoothly with digital elements as opposed to physical or analog, a digital transformation consultant traditionally specializes in whatever industry new tools or solutions are being rolled out, be it manufacturing, consumer products, life sciences, or food and beverage. In short, a digital transformation consultant can make the unavoidable growing pains of process changeovers less painful.
4. Recognize the reality of the digital divide
It sure seems like the world as a whole has gone digital, especially when you consider that a majority of citizens in a number of developing countries own smartphones, according to polling done by the Pew Research Center. But it’s important to understand that access to digital technologies is not as ubiquitous as it may seem at first blush. Look no further than the United States. In a separate survey also conducted by the Pew Research Center, nearly 80% of homeowners who live in or along the outskirts of the city have broadband internet connections. However, less than two-thirds of Americans who live in rural neighborhoods can say the same.
Similarly, 83% of suburban residents own smartphones, Pew found. That percentage drops to 71% for Americans living in rural climes — a 12% gap.
Translation: If you’re looking to grow your business and cater to more customers, you may need to continue providing legacy services until digital technology and the accompanying infrastructure casts a wider footprint.
5. Make sure it’s scalable
While just about every industry has gone through some kind of digital transformation journey, they’re often confined to one particular department or sector, typically the one that needs it the most. In a recent survey of 200 manufacturing senior executives in the U.S. and Canada, more than half of the execs polled said their industrial internet-of-things innovations were small in scale and could not be subsumed by other units, IndustryWeek reported. This may be due to the pinch points that are so often associated with integration.
Making these efforts more scalable requires ongoing communication among departments, step-by-step instructions tailored to each department and selecting an integration platform that is user-friendly and fosters collaboration, IndustryWeek advised.
Transforming your work processes won’t be done overnight and it may not go exactly as you intended. However, USC Consulting Group has expertise in many different industries and can help your employees adopt and adapt to a new production approach more seamlessly than going about it on your own. Contact us today to learn how we can help.
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