Several years ago, I said that automation and specialized systems were a requirement for companies seeking product differentiation and profitability. Today, that statement has grown and automated systems for manufacturing companies have become the required daily vitamin for both simple and complex companies to survive.
This year, customizable automated systems will be a large growth area for the manufacturing industry, based on several indicators in the economy and stock market, as well as the manufacturing segment of the market. There are also several indicators in technology that have made automation less expensive and more powerful. If you're not exploiting automation and creating the fully integrated systems that so many are working toward this year, then you're not going to have the extra edge that is helping your competitors grow.
Let me give you an example of how these automated, integrated systems have entered our daily lives:
In 2013, my wife and I had owned our car for 12 years. The car was still in good shape, had an average amount of miles on it and could have got us from point A to point B for years to come. However, we are both tall people and in 2013, we had our second child. Now with two car seats and a mountain of baby "stuff," we simply didn't fit in the vehicle. So this past December holiday season, I surprised my wife with a 2013 BMW X5. You should have seen her face!
I was very impressed by the level of integration and engineering built into the vehicle. The seats and mirrors adjusted to the remote key, in the pocket of the person opening the door, by simply pulling the door handle. The simple push of a button will start the vehicle, while all of your presets for the radio, Bluetooth phone connectivity and climate control customized to your quarter of the vehicle were setup and ready for you.
Now, you're probably getting a sense of why I'm talking about my new car. The car is fully customizable to fit nearly any driver, but beyond that it is fully integrated. Every facet of the vehicle is integrated from the pull of the door handle through automatically closing the windows when the car is locked. It even has a pleasant "ding" alarm (also customizable) that tells you you're going faster the you should be! Nice feature that helps those with extra weight in their right foot from getting speeding tickets.
Just like my new car, our manufacturing software and hardware systems must be customizable and integrated for our businesses to operate at the highest levels. This year will bring smarter systems, smarter hardware, smarter information and information as it is needed, when it is needed.
The systems will not require you to check the "tire pressure" of your factory, but will tell you when your process is trending out of control to help prevent costly mistakes before they occur. The systems will be better designed to allow the manufacturer to customize the data in a way that quickly helps the user make a decision. Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) will be accessible from your phone and will alert you to indicate when you need to take a look at those KPIs.
The future is going to present you with more information, but in less time and with less interruption. Specifically in manufacturing, this information should come out of your shop floor through your extended ERP and MES solution, complete with the tools to analyze and apply the data for proactive decision making. Is your company ready to adopt a customizable automated system, or are you falling behind?