Technology  

Smart manufacturing

Wipro Technologies discuss how smart technologies - cloud computing, business intelligence, big data analytics and mobility - are helping manufacturers facilitate real-time collaboration across their operations
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Written by N.S. Bala & Sudhi Bangalore,Senior Vice President & Global Head and Global Practice Head for Smart Manufacturing respectively forManufacturing & Hi-Tech Business Unit, Wipro Technologies

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While the manufacturing industry continues to face margin and cash flow pressures, it’s now also being exposed to a new set of challenges centred on the need for a rapid response to product change and the demand for a connected experience.

Used to responding in months, the traditional discrete manufacturer is suddenly being forced to grapple with the new social media savvy consumer who is accustomed to receiving a response in days.

But luckily, there are smart technologies and solutions that have evolved rapidly to help address this challenge: cloud computing; business intelligence; big data to enable advance factory analytics; and mobility solutions to facilitate real-time, multi-plant collaboration.

Cloud Computing

While cloud-based computing is still considered a risk for the majority of organisations in the manufacturing industry, there is a high potential for the cloud in ‘factory business analytics’ that is gaining in importance.

In factory business analytics, cloud computing – along with analytics and collaborative platforms – sets the stage for manufacturers to go from responding in days to responding in hours.

The combination of these technologies provides operational leaders with the ability to use insight-based predictions to make fast, proactive decisions that impact yield, quality and return on assets.  This has the potential to impact everything from what to build and when, to what labour mix and in what plant.

In addition to providing the platform for smart decision making, a cloud-based IT infrastructure allows the business to scale up and down as and when required, supporting business growth without requiring expensive changes to existing systems.

By enabling companies to cope with varying market conditions and increasingly complex demand driven supply chains, the cloud creates a more sustainable business environment.

Business intelligence and Big Data

In manufacturing industries, the growth in data is an outcome of developments in three key areas:

1.       Digital Devices in plants and production floors:The vast variety of sensors, meters, thermal devices, RFID tags, GPS devices, bar code scanners, surveillance cameras and microphones that are capturing machine transactions in manufacturing plants.

2.       User Data:Today’s consumers generate massive volumes of data with their usage of products like medical devices, digital TV, smart cards, bank cards, cars, cameras, computers and smartphones.

3.       Consumers interacting with each other:Social data is proliferating as societies are networked and collaborate over voice and data networks. The volume of person to person data is growing exponentially.

It’s this vast deluge of numbers generated by men and machines that has manufacturing businesses excited. While the manufacturing sector has always produced a massive data set, it has struggled to translate that data into actionable information.

 However, that challenge is slowly being addressed with the introduction of unified communications and analytics that allow the deconstruction of data into useable information.

Outside of factory operational value, this large volume of data that’s being generated presents an opportunity for companies to better understand their business, customers, products and market at a rate and scale like never before.

However, the sheer volume, complexity, velocity and variety of data is so overwhelming that, if not managed well, it can bury entire organisations.

The key challenge is to make data available across different areas of the business and different geographies in real-time – and being able to do something with this data.

For instance, organisations that are able to integrate and understand data from marketing, customer response, R&D and operations are better placed to rapidly expose quality and product gaps; help in planning and delivering products and services with greater efficiency; and help raise micro demands that have so far been difficult to capture and respond to.

With the right tools, big data and analytics can create better insights to reduce costs, help businesses identify fresh trends and uncover new products, services and opportunities.

Mobility

In the manufacturing environment, where productivity gains are becoming harder to achieve and businesses are moving from centralised to decentralised models, mobile technologies are enabling a higher level of collaboration and communication.

For instance, technologies are moving from being web-based to app-based in order to improve access to information on mobile devices. Using apps, production and enterprise data from diverse sources can be captured, transmitted, analysed, visualised and presented on the move.

In the manufacturing context, entire supply chains are being squeezed into apps; enterprise systems from ERP to PLM are being transformed for a ‘widget-end-point’; and production monitoring and maintenance are going mobile, enabling access to real-time plant intelligence. This is the ‘consumerisation of IT’ at its best and as a result, manufacturers are becoming more agile and responsive, making quick and precise decisions.

The trends in mobile technology are most likely to impact manufacturing in areas such as collaboration, workflow, data distribution, quality and maintenance and servicing scenarios. Team members from information system professionals to operators, control engineers and quality and maintenance engineers will be using devices in various formats – tablets, mobile devices and smartphones. Armed with the devices, they will be helping organisations become flexible and competitive in totally new ways.

Looking Ahead

The developments in cloud computing, big data, analytics and mobility have started to positively impact how manufacturers can direct their operations around the demands of the consumer, not just around their own operational goals, and how they can do so without sacrificing margins and cash flow. 

This has started to deliver new and efficient ways to collaborate, innovate and approach business and those organisations that fail to adapt risk falling behind. The applications of these technologies are just starting to grow and surprise us with their possibilities for driving growth in the manufacturing industry.

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