Automation and analytics can help sustain a manufacturing revival

With demand picking up for industrial equipment manufacturers they are exploring how they might apply technology to existing assets as they wait to see if the demand is part of a long-term trend. For years, they have relied on automation to improve the output and efficiency of their plants, and to help them break through capacity constraints inherent in the prevailing manufacturing approach.

Today is no different:  Accenture research shows that more than a third (39 percent) of industrial equipment companies are applying automation technology to extend asset life. Nearly three quarters (73 percent) plan to make capital investments in manufacturing technology this year.

What’s different today are the myriad new and emerging digital and other technologies that have the potential to dramatically improve the production process. For example, digital technologies are transforming the ways in which manufacturers can design and operate their plants and assets within them to make them more efficient and productive.

Leading companies are deploying technology solutions that support the plant’s manufacturing process, quality control activities, organization structure and operating and management model. Additionally, by applying simulation technology, manufacturers are more accurately planning resources, buffer requirements, production rates and lead times. They also are more effectively balancing manufacturing across the plant’s production process.

One of the major advantages of increased use of automation is the data such technology generates. When a line is completely automated, an industrial equipment maker has access to a wide range of information not available from a non-automated process—including when production starts and finishes, line slowdowns, downtime and quality issues. This information is vital to pinpointing problems that affect manufacturing throughput and to resolving those problems to optimize the manufacturing process overall.

Analytics can be especially valuable in this regard. They can enable industrial equipment manufacturers to continuously monitor and predict the reliability of their assets. With that intelligence, they can then structure and schedule maintenance activities to have the least impact on production, and also proactively identify and avoid potentially costly breakdowns.

Another area we expect to see existing assets optimised with the help of technology is through improved operational visibility. Our research shows that industrial manufacturers are prioritising initiatives that would help provide visibility while ensuring quality as they moved forward. When asked, 67 percent of industrial manufacturers responded that Performance Management was one of the initiatives they had planned. This was followed by 47 percent for Quality Assurance.

A good example of the drive toward network-wide visibility can be found in the management of Maintenance Repair and Operations (MRO) of spare parts. In the past, the MRO of spare parts were managed for optimal performance “inside the four walls”. Today, organizations are striving to optimize MRO across the network by standardizing MRO nomenclature, MRO taxonomy and inventory management locations across the network.

The growing use of automation is making such increased visibility possible. Manufacturers can integrate the plant-specific data that automated tools generate and, through the use of advanced analytics, gain greater insights into the performance of the entire manufacturing network. These insights can help teams collaborate more effectively to manage the network and make appropriate decisions to balance demand and capacity.

Industrial equipment manufacturers may be reluctant to commit to building new facilities until they see sustained demand. They need to anticipate the emerging manufacturing trends just around the corner, but they can respond to growing demand for products today by better utilising existing assets with the application of key technologies.

Posted by Eric Schaeffer, Global Managing Director - Automotive, Industrial Equipment, Infrastructure and Transportation, Accenture

Copyright © 2014 IDG Communications, Inc.

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