Building the Factory of the Future: Top 5 Challenges of Integrated Manufacturing Systems

Building the Factory of the Future - Kinspeed

The Factory of the Future, a vision for the evolution of manufacturing, comprises three facets: factory structure, factory digitisation, and factory processes. Automated processes are already a reality for many manufacturers but for small to medium enterprises, the path to digitisation can be shrouded in doubt. This unease is often rooted in the burden of legacy systems with “this is how we’ve always done it” steering decision-makers down the path of least resistance – inaction.

In this guide to building the factory of the future, we explore the top five challenges facing businesses starting out on the journey to become data driven, digital manufacturers.

1. What is Digital Manufacturing?

We may be teaching some to suck eggs here but understanding how digital technologies apply to day-to-day manufacturing operations remains a mystery for many of us. It’s safe to say information overload has a lot to do with this. Essentially, digital manufacturing is the use of computer software to manage operations and link processes. The foundation of digital manufacturing is integration. This might sound rather uninspiring, but integration unlocks greater efficiency, productivity, and margin for all businesses, not just manufacturers.

2. Legacy Systems

Legacy systems are a bane for many business leaders and are usually responsible for stifling growth. There aren’t many businesses out there who haven’t had a patchwork of systems to contend with on a daily basis. Unpicking this tangle of systems is easier than you might think. It’s not something many businesses can do alone, outside help will probably be needed.

The first step to building the factory of the future is working out which legacy systems are essential, and which have been made obsolete by modern manufacturing software. No one is throwing the baby out with the bathwater here. A software developer worth their salt will integrate essential legacy systems with the core ERP, such as Sage 200 or NetSuite. Every process is connected in real-time, accessible via a single system.

Commonly integrated applications are third-party logistics like courier software and shop floor data capture. The majority of processes, from finance and procurement to marketing and eCommerce, are supported by industry-specific functionality within modern ERP software systems. Manual processes are automated, freeing staff to focus on value-adding activities, rather than plugging the gaps created by disparate legacy systems.

3. What to Do With Data

Once all manufacturing processes are integrated into a single system, you’re going to have a lot of data to work with. ERP systems collate data from every process, storing it all in a single system. This applies to all departments, not just the shop floor.

“Before you even consider the importance of the data and leveraging it, you need to consider what data to store, why you need it and what you’re going to do with it.” The Manufacturer

It’s all well and good collecting data but it needs to be useful. In manufacturing, raw material and serial number tracking, forecasting, inventory management and production scheduling, are among the most critical data sets. This might sound rather expensive and disruptive to implement. Hold that thought. Commercially available manufacturing software supplied by experienced developers has come on leaps and bounds in the past decade. Building the factory of the future is totally accessible to small business.

4. Seeing the Big Picture

Manufacturing software systems provide the big picture that businesses need. While strategic decisions might once have been made using experience and intuition, the complexities of global supply chains and competition render ‘on a hunch’ decision-making simply reckless.

The factory of the future uses manufacturing business software to tailor data for different users. For instance, the finance director will have a role-based dashboard configured to monitor cashflow, and the operations director will have a dashboard configured to deliver real-time output figures, on the lookout for bottlenecks on the shop floor.

Data driven decision-making is the goal here. The big picture might sound overly complex, especially for a small manufacturer, but the opposite is true. Manufacturing software for small business, available off-the-shelf, present insights in an easy-to-use, role-based dashboard. Accessible from a desktop, smartphone, or tablet, up-to-the-minute insights are within easy reach.

5. Hearts and Minds

Achieving greater visibility, higher productivity, and ultimately, growth, might be a no-brainer for most of us. However, change is not always welcomed. No one wants to unnecessarily alter the course of a steady ship. But when international waters became congested, ships turned to digital navigation. Digital technologies are inevitable if a business intends to be competitive.

The secret to winning the hearts and minds campaign, is value. In practice, this is user configuration and training to secure buy-in. The value of manufacturing software will be a boon for those regularly battling with disparate legacy systems. Error-prone and time-consuming processes are almost, if not completely, eradicated by manufacturing software systems.

When the budget for digitisation is modest, the best place to start is where the biggest headaches occur. Curing this headache starts with a process mapping exercise, to locate pinch points, potential bottlenecks, and identifying processes which can be automated. Mostly commonly, this is order entry, serial number tracking, forecasting, inventory management, and production scheduling.

No one gets left behind here, the factory of the future welcomes all.

Constructing the Factory of the Future

Create a roadmap for what the factory of the future will look like. What do operations look like now and what will they look like in the future? Where are the inefficiencies? Where are the headaches?

Even the most complex business challenges can be overcome through digitisation. With every process integrated, operations run faster and with greater accuracy, supporting a more agile and more profitable business.

If you are ready to build the factory of the future, book a free business consultation with Kinspeed.

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