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Industry Updates

Delivering Intelligent Automation in Manufacturing

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While the majority of manufacturing executives acknowledge the importance of digital transformation, only 5 percent are satisfied with their current digital strategies. That makes it more important than ever for organizations to embrace the advent of Industry 4.0 and learn from peers that are succeeding.

One common factor in that success is intelligent automation initiatives, which are helping to create smart factories by introducing intelligence to manufacturers’ production lines and supply chains. Here are four ways manufacturers are leveraging that intelligent automation to increase efficiency and improve customer service, while also overcoming the challenges faced along the way.

1. Embrace agility to deliver results quickly

Start small, think big, scale fast was the approach taken by multinational sports apparel manufacturer adidas. By starting with several small automation projects in parallel, employees are able to act as advocates and demonstrate their results to others in the business. This is a quicker way to highlight success. But these projects need careful consideration. It’s important to have an agile methodology in mind when discussing the requirements around a process model, as this forms the foundation of intelligent automation.

As a result of agile development cycles, adidas delivered new workflow cycles in as little as two months, with 23 processes set live in just two years. This helped to eliminate one million emails per year in the supply chain, reducing operational cost by 60 percent and onboarding time by 50 percent. The company accomplished all of this in a third of the traditional development and delivery time.

2. Integrate your systems to empower employees

A challenge that many manufacturing organization’s face is obtaining visibility across their siloed systems. Not only does it make it hard to view information for decision making, but disparate systems often require access to the same data, so employees must enter it multiple times.

This was the case for Kyocera, who optimized their Excel and email-based Special Pricing Approval system. By integrating their legacy systems, they relieved employees of manual data entry tasks – up to 20 minutes per approval – and provided clear numbers for them to make better informed decisions. Mobile access to pricing approval made it possible to sign off on new purchases on-the-fly, which previously was not possible via spreadsheets.

The management mantra at Kyocera is to ‘Provide opportunities for the material and intellectual growth of all our employees.’ By using process automation to reduce the average pricing approval time by 85 percent, this organization not only accelerated turnaround to win more business, but empowered employees to do more with their working hours.

3. Automate complex processes to enable customizable solutions

Waste disposal truck manufacturer Geesinknorba deals with a broad product portfolio, 99 percent of which are highly customized to the needs of each customer. This dramatically increases the complexity of the organization’s manufacturing process.

Interestingly, Geesinknorba flipped the popular concept of a smart factory on its head. Instead they created ‘smart units’ to streamline processes and improve efficiency. These act as a navigator through the production process and can start different production steps simultaneously, considering the supply side, the lead-time and capacity. With all of this information available, the system can always make the best decision.

To create the smart units, the team automated their processes, building in business rules and machine learning. They are now producing the most intelligent products on the market in an insightful and agile way, while speeding product delivery and improving flexibility around the changing needs of customers. In fact, they have increased the efficiency of production by 45 percent.

4. Create transparency for better process governance

As items progress through the production or repair process, it can be hard to know the exact status of individual items. This was the case with luxury department store Harrods, which has its own in-house watch store for bespoke models.

Their inefficient paper-based process made it hard to track and report on where watches were within the business and hindered communication with customers when they asked for updates. By digitizing the process, they enabled end-to-end visibility of the production line to help with process governance. This was particularly important for Harrods to ensure compliance when handling high-value items, with some watches worth nearly $2.5 million.

The automation of the process also helped with their customer engagement by automatically sending alerts to customers as the watch passed through checkpoints in the process, including when it was time to collect the watch.

The manufacturing industry is experiencing significant transformation. It’s driven by technological innovations and the challenge of delivering products faster than ever before, in an increasingly globalized and competitive landscape. Intelligent automation is helping these organizations by adding a layer of agility to existing systems, one that enables employees to collaboratively digitize and automate processes. As a result, these initiatives are allowing manufacturers to rapidly optimize complex operations by introducing intelligence to production lines and supply chains.

Gustavo Gómez is founder and CEO of Bizagi, a leading provider of intelligent process automation software connecting people, robots and information.

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