Manufacturing production processes are becoming increasingly complex, resulting in numerous challenges for organizations. Improving and streamlining manufacturing processes is essential for businesses to avoid production delays and inflated budgets due to supply chain constraints. Manufacturers also face issues of faulty equipment or other assets that result in unscheduled maintenance, costly shutdowns, and a lack of ability to meet delivery deadlines. 

In order to avoid these obstacles, manufacturing executives are turning to digital tools designed to help streamline production, improve product quality, minimize manufacturing disruptions, and conclude more projects on time and on budget. The more manufacturers utilize internet technology (IT) and operational technology (OT), the more realized the benefits are across the board in the manufacturing process. For example, one way digital tools improve companies’ processes is by using sensors to capture and analyze data. Analyzing this data allows manufacturers to improve their equipment’s overall effectiveness by predicting quality issues before they arise, detecting anomalies in the equipment’s operation, and accurately forecasting manufacturing output.

Lifecycle Insights’ Flexible Manufacturing Study

To gain insight into how digital solutions are helping manufacturers, Lifecycle Insights conducted the Flexible Manufacturing Study. The study discusses these useful IT/OT digital tools and highlights the projected outcomes of these improvements in the manufacturing process. Traditional tools such as basic programs and software (e.g. spreadsheets, documents, and shared drives) can push process improvement, but not nearly as well as IT/OT digital tools. The use of these traditional tools isn’t enough to help companies maintain production schedules, keep costs down, and stay competitive. 

Yet, these tools are the ones currently in use. Respondents to the Flexible Manufacturing Study cited problems such as data loss, difficult intra-office and department communication, all of which ultimately reduce productivity and hinder optimal business operation. 

Perhaps the largest drawback to these more traditional digital solutions is that these tools make automation difficult. Automation is one of the most effective ways to improve efficiency. When organizations use tools that cannot facilitate IT/OT crosstalk, they can’t automate their processes effectively.

The Importance of Automation

Indeed, manufacturers cite manufacturing automation as their top goal. Respondents to Lifecycle Insights’ Flexible Manufacturing Survey regarded automation as the best way to increase their manufacturing output. Survey respondents also saw automation as an important way to improve product quality. Automation enhances production efficiency and fosters improved communication among departments and cross-functional teams, leading to significant time savings. Companies also cited the need to ensure their equipment’s effectiveness, a task at which automation excels. Machine downtime due to unscheduled maintenance negatively affects a company’s bottom line by reducing production. Automation helps prevent these shutdowns through constant monitoring, ultimately helping companies meet their production goals more easily.

On time, on budget, with less downtime

In order to quantify how newer digital tools are helping manufacturers, Lifecycle Insights’ Flexible Manufacturing Study used a benchmark rubric that factored in the companies’ priorities, manufacturing improvements, and the solutions and tools they use to execute their manufacturing. One crucial insight was that companies’ effective utilization of manufacturing-specific digital tools directly influenced their capacity to meet production deadlines, achieve budgetary targets, and minimize production downtime. 

The results from the study further showed, not surprisingly, that the companies that utilize newer digital solutions to automate and streamline their manufacturing processes had the most on-time deliveries, the most production projects executed on budget, and the least amount of unplanned downtime. This clear trend unequivocally demonstrates the power that automation can bring to a manufacturer. 

IT/OT adoption is just beginning

The trend of IT/OT digital solutions is growing. Within the Flexible Manufacturing Study, the results show that companies who adopt IT/OT convergence can expect benefits including:

  • extended lifecycle of machines and machine parts; 
  • 24/7 monitoring for off-site internal management;
  • insight into machine performance at different operating parameters to improve efficiency of equipment;
  • improvement of labor standards, decreased overtime, and overall expenditure on labor; and
  • improved insight into money spent to fix equipment breakdowns. 

However, the study showed that companies that have adopted more IT/OT crosstalk and automation still have room to grow into their full capabilities. The vast number of new digital solutions available offers an opportunity to continue to improve their manufacturing efficiency and production—and be more prepared to pivot and adapt to changing market conditions or customer preferences. Every improvement in manufacturing performance provides crucial competitive advantages for companies to grow and evolve into manufacturing powerhouses. 

Interested in learning more about the Flexible Manufacturing Survey? Please contact us. 

Lifecycle Insights is a trusted research, advisory, and publishing firm providing data-driven insights. We publish research, educational, and advisory insights on technology-led engineering initiatives, enabling better investment and adoption decisions. In addition, we work with companies to provide services for initiative decision-making, campaign content, go-to-market strategy, and product strategy.