Manufacturing AUTOMATION

How to get your factory fit for the future

September 30, 2019
By Terri Hiskey

Capitalize on the Internet of Things by connecting sensors to automation software for intelligent decision-making

How to get your factory fit for the future by EpicorPhoto: Zapp2Photo/iStock/Getty Images Plus

Technologies and trends are having a profound impact on manufacturing as we know it with manufacturers embracing industry 4.0 technology and capabilities.

Innovative technologies are paving the way for today’s manufacturers to streamline business processes and break down barriers to growth, while accelerating the pace of transformation for plant and business operations. According to IDC, 65 per cent of global 2000 companies will have refreshed their core business systems by 2023 through rationalization, modernization and transformation.

There are three technology trends driving digital transformation for manufacturers, including the Internet of Thing (IoT), advanced analytics and cloud-based capabilities. Here’s how these three key trends that are shaping the future of manufacturing as manufacturers embark on their journey of future-ready transformation.

The growth of IoT

IoT-based smart devices are opening new windows of visibility into manufacturing processes. As such, manufacturers are set to be one of the largest spenders on IoT with new innovative technologies being treated as an investment into the future of the organization. IDC predicts that discrete manufacturing will be the top spender on IoT this year with $119 billion, and process manufacturing will spend $78 billion.


As IoT continues to shape the future of manufacturing, manufacturers can easily get started on the path to the factory of the future just by simply connecting a sensor to a machine. That sensor collects data that is generated from that machine, and then that data is transformed into something understandable and actionable for manufactures. There are three steps manufacturers can take to begin their journey of future-ready transformation:

  1. Identify what is it you want to track via a sensor – whether that is temperature, vibration, quantity of products, etc.
  2. Apply a sensor to that machine and set the “normal” threshold.
  3. Link that sensor to an ERP system so you can visualize and act upon this data within your ERP environment

Manufacturers will see immediate access to data and warnings when their thresholds are either not met or exceeded so workers can adjust proactively. This will result in greater visibility, greater agility and empowered workers. Once IoT technologies such as sensors and actuators are embedded into products or production equipment, manufacturers need to be able to handle the flow of data in order to capture and store it, analyze it and act on it.

The advance of analytics

Using analytics for better decision-making is helping manufacturers predict what will happen and providing recommended smart actions to take when it does. Data lies at the heart of the fourth industrial evolution, but according to Gartner, in the age of Industry 4.0, 70 per cent of all data captured on the manufacturing floor goes unused due to the lack of resources to mull through the data, such as having a data scientist on staff. This means manufacturing organizations are doing without countless valuable insights that this data holds.

As more and more Industry 4.0 initiatives are rolled out across factories, unless a strategy and process are set in place for extracting key data points, the many data-driven insights being collected will continue to go untapped. Solutions such as modern enterprise resource planning (ERP) software will be crucial to coordinating automated workflows and enabling effective data sharing between machines and humans across multiple digital platforms.

This can help businesses increase operational efficiency by constantly measuring operational performance ranging from temperature to vibrations – and then the software indicates when an anomaly is detected and calls for immediate action to address the issue at-hand.

Intelligent ERPs also allow users, both on the factory floor and in the back office, to easily understand various aspects of the manufacturing process, including:

  • Planning and scheduling needs and updates
  • Production and project management and status
  • Business intelligence and analytics

IDC research shows that digitally determined organizations have a 27 per cent greater frequency of employees managing their daily and weekly activities more efficiently. Employees that have access to real-time data can model and simulate outcomes, ultimately resulting in a better decision.

The migration of applications to the cloud

The need for real-time access to critical data is driving the migration of key manufacturing software application to the cloud.

The availability, flexibility and scalability of cloud-based applications allow manufacturers to better manage operations. However, the move to the cloud also hasn’t been as swift as originally anticipated. Many companies are trying a hybrid approach with an on-premises ERP system connected to cloud analytics or other cloud add-ons. For example, some companies have IoT connected systems that feed into an on-premises ERP.

Not all cloud implementations are equal. Consider these attributes in your ERP solution if you expect to leverage cloud flexibility in your factory of the future:

  1. Cloud-ready architecture: Look for a cloud-ready ERP solution that is streamlined, standardized and open – the characteristics that align with ease of integration and interoperability. These characteristics have a direct effect on the solution’s scalability, reliability and performance.
  2. Choice in deployment: Many manufactures choose a software-as-a-service (SaaS) model of ERP delivery because they find it more cost-effective and secure to rely on a specialized IT provider than on their own small in-house IT team. Another reason is because it gives them automatic access to updates, to keep up with pace of technology change and compete with the best.

Manufacturers who prefer to host their ERP system themselves should look for a solution that offers a flexible, cloud-based architecture in a hosted option with the flexibility to move to a SaaS version for future transformation efforts.

Tomorrow’s manufacturer needs to be a leader when it comes to adopting informational technologies like analytics and cloud, along with operational technologies like sensors and machine-to-machine communication. Those who can fully take advantage of these advancements will transform their business by operationalizing on technology investments to ensure optimal and continued growth in ROI.


Terri Hiskey is vice-president, global product marketing for Epicor.

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