Manufacturing AUTOMATION

Thriving in a new reality

May 14, 2013
By Mark Humphlett

It’s a new era in manufacturing. From increased global competition to compressed margins and volatile pricing, today’s market pressures are intense.

Not only do they threaten profitability and growth, these rapidly evolving pressures are also forcing manufacturers to reexamine their entire systems. Efficiency is no longer a goal; it is an absolute necessity.

Manufacturers are finding that a new paradigm of problem solving is also required. It’s the mindset that allows a company to go the extra step in the quest to be more agile, responsive and attuned to customer needs. Without an innovative approach to system-wide improvement, manufacturers run the risk of being surpassed by fast-acting competitors who seize emerging opportunities.

This heightened competitive pressure is just one of the factors driving a new emphasis on technology’s role in process improvement. Not only can next generation ERP solutions speed processes, they also allow personnel—from C-level executives to line foremen—to be more strategic in their activities and decisions. By eliminating wasted steps, redundancies and gaps in communication, employees can focus on innovation, collaboration and building intimate relationships with customers.

ERP solutions also must stretch far beyond the company’s walls and involve more than just internal budget planning and financial reports. Now they must include collaborating with customers, managing co-manufacturers and contractors and extending new value-added services. They also involve just-in-time relationships with suppliers, continuous connectivity with stakeholders, on-demand access to supply chains and engineered-to-order customizations for clients. To keep up with these ever-changing market conditions, manufacturers need flexible technology solutions that improve operational performance.

Make smarter decisions, faster
Focusing on the physical manufacturing process is no longer enough. Today, manufacturers must also look at refining thought processes. Personnel must make smarter decisions faster. Executives must also be confident those decisions are accurate, strategically sound and comply with the corporate vision. Next-generation ERP solutions provide contextual decision-making tools that push relevant data to users, rather than relying on personnel to instigate a search. This helps speed response time and guides users to follow best practices.

The consumerization of IT is infiltrating manufacturing. Personnel come to the plant expecting to find tools that look and act like the websites, smart phones and tablets they use at home.

Highly powerful integrated mobile solutions certainly help manufacturers achieve higher performance. Managers may be on the shop floor, in meetings, coordinating activities and overseeing a wide variety of tasks across the plant. To be responsive to fast-changing demands, personnel must maintain connectivity and continue to have access to critical data—anytime from anywhere.

Access to data is one aspect of solving problems quickly. Complex issues often require dialogue. Collaborative tools support these tactics, fueling problem-solving and creative thinking. Thanks to integrated technology, personnel can share schematics, comment on design configurations and jointly review performance data while troubleshooting engineering modifications.

This type of creative problem solving and innovative use of employees’ talents are critical for manufacturers today. Only with this mindset that focuses on what is possible—rather than what isn’t—will manufacturers overcome the current market challenges and not just survive—but thrive.

Mark Humphlett is director ERP – Industry and Product Marketing at Infor.

This article originally appeared in the May 2013 issue of Manufacturing AUTOMATION.

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