While the invention of the assembly line epitomised manufacturing’s drive to develop processes that boost efficiency, it has never managed to apply such innovations elsewhere, writes Scott Ho.

To improve backend processes, organisations should focus on building digital ecosystems that break down silos that have little interaction, within businesses and between enterprises. By doing so, organisations will increase accessibility and visibility to critical data, enabling swifter corrective action on any issues. Moreover, digital ecosystems allow organisations to make sales via ecommerce, providing more flexibility to customers.

There’s no quick fix for building a digital ecosystem; it requires dedication and resources. To develop a digital ecosystem, organisations must break down walls between departments and other enterprises. This can be done by investing in data collection and machine-learning technologies that enable inter-departmental and inter-organisational communication, improving collaboration. With more complete information and real-time analysis, manufacturers can deliver better services and products.

Regular maintenance schedules are ever-present in manufacturing, but they can be thrown into disarray when machinery breaks down or requires urgent maintenance or repairs. Not only does this disrupt operations, but it creates unexpected costs for the business: purchasing new machinery, express shipping replacement parts.

Technologies such as IIoT (Industrial Internet of Things) sensors can be implemented on the factory floor to collect signals on how machinery is operating, allowing analysts to anticipate problems before they occur. Sensors may indicate that a particular part is worn out and may cause the machine to break down; in preparation, the business can order a new part and install it immediately, reducing downtime. By doing so, the business saves time and money.

Equipment and processes are only one aspect of manufacturing; another is the supply chain. Supply chains include parties from differing organisations (and often countries), making it hard to track and accomplish shared goals. To overcome this, manufacturers should invest in technology that can aggregate and analyse data to see where issues may have occurred throughout the supply chain. For example, by analysing data as COVID-19 emerged in early 2020, organisations could have forecast potential delays, particularly for products coming in or out of China.

By having unprecedented levels of visibility, organisations can address and manage issues more efficiently. For instance, if fresh produce is found to have been contaminated after it has been distributed to stores across the country, it’s imperative to act quickly. With AI-powered search and connected data sources, the produce can swiftly be identified and located, relevant information (such as where the produce was sent) can be found immediately, and recalls can be actioned, potentially stopping customers from falling ill.

So while developing a digital ecosystem is a major project that requires a lot of adjustment, it’s an essential process for manufacturing organisations to undertake to progress into the future. Just as manufacturing processes turns raw materials into finished products, manufacturers must take data, glean insights and use it to improve processes, and ultimately products.

Scott Ho is Vice-President – Asia Pacific Japan at Lucidworks.