The spread of sensors, low-cost computing, and digital infrastructure is disrupting for current manufacturing companies, however, it also creates additional opportunities for new and old alike. As a result of a heightened digital infrastructure, knowledge will be shared much more easily, effectively decreasing the distance between manufacturers and their customers.
The Relationship Between Digital Infrastructure and Cloud
Much of the advances within digital infrastructure are a result of software companies developing cloud ERP solutions, in-memory data models, the capability for online knowledge storage, and connected sensors. The World Economic Forum states it is critical for countries and companies to invest in maintaining a digital infrastructure to remain competitive.
The cloud is an infrastructure option that gives users the ability to keep systems in data centers maintained off-premises by a service provider. It benefits users by eliminating the need to purchase and maintain servers in-house, however, the cloud does provide some real challenges to manufacturers. On the other hand, the “multi-tenant” version of ERP software is, for the most part, not a best practice for manufacturers.
In multi-tenancy, several companies can share a single instance of software on one server in a data center. This option gives the supplier of the service a method to decrease costs, but it also restricts manufacturers by eliminating some freedoms. A manufacturer with a multi-tenant solution can be limited in their customizations and may not be able to control how and when the solution is upgraded.
How to Decide Whether To Move To the Cloud, or Stay On-Premise
There are many steps a manufacturer must make in the process of deciding whether to host their solution on-premise, in the cloud, or a combination of both. While cloud providers will boast their quick uptime, for example, internet connectivity is also a key element. A cloud solution may not be a good fit for a company with locations in remote locations with poor or intermittent internet service. It is important for a company to evaluate the best infrastructure option for them, and not be “sold to” by software providers.
For manufacturers, there are some key developments in digital infrastructure that are important in order to increase productivity and efficiency, and make it easy for everyone to work together from a supply chain, distribution and services standpoint.
For a manufacturer, mobility gives consumers to access real-time data where it occurs, allowing people the option to make quick and informed decisions. Workers on the shop floor can record time and materials immediately to provide a timelier picture of production and scheduling needs. Business Intelligence dashboards can provide executives a quicker view of key performance indicators from any location.
Digital solutions give users the ability to connect with customers throughout the supply chain. Customer and vendor portals give each party access to order information, inventory levels and designs.
Trading Partner Connect from Epicor, for example, is an internet trading network for distributors and their manufacturers/suppliers, which streamlines the supply chain by giving distributors greater access to inventory, and a vehicle for conducting EDI without EDI charges.
Currently, there are 5 billion devices connected through the Internet of Things. This number is projected to grow to 25 billion by 2025. IoT devices range from sensors that monitor machines used from production, through to the end product at customer sites, and even wearable sensors to monitor health. While these devices collect the information, this data still needs an infrastructure that gives users the ability to house the data, and crunch it quickly. A cloud option provides these necessary resources.
One great advantage of a digital infrastructure is the ability to be more collaborative during the design processes within manufacturing. It provides an agile approach to development by supporting virtual design teams, virtual design, product configurations at the client site and the download of designs directly to machines.
Autodesk, for example, has software for industrial equipment design that comes with the ability to design, visualize and simulate products with 3D design and tooling software. This serves to streamline workflows and increase communication across teams.
Sales and Marketing
A mobile SalesForce needs a system that proves how mobility increases services to customers. Cloud-based CRM solutions now operate on a variety of devices, including smartphones, to provide salespeople real-time information from anywhere and at any time. The interaction between sales and an ERP solution yields the current information needed to make manufacturing decisions.
Technology has given us the ability to gather a great amount of information very quickly, and for easy consumption. Manufacturers of all sizes must take advantage of this digital infrastructure to transform their business and remain competitive. In addition, companies also need to prepare an assessment of their processes to determine which would benefit from a cloud solution.
Our Series on the 10 Drivers of the Future of Manufacturing
In the World Economic Forum’s white paper, “Manufacturing Our Future, Cases on the Future of Manufacturing,” the Global Agenda Council on the subject determined that manufacturing has become so complex that to ensure its development, the private sector, public sector and civil society may often converge.
They determined what must be done within ten different drivers of the future of manufacturing, including ones specific to capabilities and those specific to policies and trends.
Digital Infrastructure is the tenth and final entry in our series covering the ten drivers, our first provides an overview on their recommendations concerning Advanced Data Analytics.