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How to improve the manufacturing process: 6 keys to tech success

AI, analytics, IoT and modern apps can serve important roles in today's manufacturing companies. Learn six steps that put these technologies to good use.

Keeping up with technological change is akin to jumping on a moving train. Manufacturing companies must attempt to run day-to-day operations, while also adding on technologies such as AI and IoT in an attempt to modernize and compete. But to improve the manufacturing process overall, you have to start somewhere.

Here are six steps that can help you do just that.

1. Automate manufacturing processes with AI

Manufacturing continues to undergo global transformation. AI can help reduce the number of resources needed to perform some predictable and repetitive steps, as well as automate some of the remaining steps. Look for ways to implement the technology, as it can yield such powerful results. For example, AI can help cut costs and improve the manufacturing process, such as inventory control, materials movement, accounting and quality control. 

2. Collect data with IoT

Identical production lines don't necessarily safeguard against different yields or outputs. In fact, given that various resources are typically assigned to each line -- as well as variant downtime due to mechanical or technical issues -- it can be challenging to compare different production lines and determine the common causes of downtime when they're not being tracked.

IoT devices help collect uptime data of the equipment, production output, production speed and other valuable data. They bring more visibility to what happens in the production lines and collect meaningful data on the different runs. Some of these devices include temperature sensors, infrared sensors, high-resolution cameras, counters and many other connected gadgets that push data to a centralized location, where it can then be analyzed, providing businesses with the ability to analyze the collected data and gain insights into what happens in the production.

3. Get insight with analytics

Meaningful data visualization can be a powerful way to share production updates with stakeholders. Staff can interact with business intelligence (BI) dashboards that provide them with some feedback on the progress of the production run, in addition to other relevant information. Supervisors can also use BI dashboards to look for red flags, such as dips in productivity due to downtime or slowdowns of the equipment that may require intervention.

As for management, the information collected from the different systems can be analyzed over a longer period of time. By using available BI tools like Microsoft Power BI, Tableau, MicroStrategy or Domo, management can gain some insights into production trends, profitability by line or by product. BI tools can also help understand what customers want.

4. Share information with users

If CIOs want to improve the manufacturing process, they must involve employees and make change management easy for them.

New technology doesn't happen in a vacuum. If CIOs want to improve the manufacturing process, they must involve employees and make change management easy for them. One method is offering a centralized location for information. 

This is accomplished by centralizing videos, how-to guides and other training material, along with standard operating procedures in an enterprise content management platform. More organizations are making enterprise content management platforms accessible to all their staff members -- even when it's the only thing they'll need to have access to in the network.

5. Personalize productivity tools

To increase employee engagement -- especially with those who have a direct effect on production -- manufacturing organizations are turning to tools that support real-time communication and data sharing. The success of these tools depends on their ability to deliver meaningful data to end users at the different levels within the organization. Workers must be able to understand what they can affect and must be able to see the change firsthand.

6. Use mobile devices with business apps

Manufacturing companies have used mobile devices, such as handheld scanners, to check inventory for many years. However, in spite of employees using radio frequency handheld scanners, paper-based workflows and checklists across several companies are still commonly used.

To help reduce this inefficiency, some companies are adopting tablets or smartphones to deliver digital forms. Smartphones and tablets can access information with more functionality, as well as adopt different business apps that can help track manufacturing data and provide access to business information the employees need to improve the manufacturing process.

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