Changes to the world of modern manufacturing are elevating industry leaders and leaving incumbents behind.
Today’s “smart factory” is outfitted with technologies such as 3D printing and Internet of Things (IoT)-compatible machinery.
The systems within these revolutionary operations let companies process orders, manufacture products, and ship to customers faster. Through them, leaders can improve the health of core processes in real time and let customers track orders at each stage of fulfillment.
To stay ahead of their small, nimble competitors, manufacturers must embrace cutting-edge technologies like Robotic Process Automation (RPA).
According to a Deloitte study, barely 20% of manufacturers consider themselves “highly prepared” to handle some of the biggest changes coming in the next era of digital disruption. This is because the new era of smart technology requires creative automation solutions, motivating manufacturing companies to shift away from the physical robots they’ve used before and toward their software robot counterparts.
However, it can be hard for manufacturing companies to see which new technology has the most promise. Thankfully, industry leaders continue to demonstrate that RPA is the best way to create efficiency now and enable transformation into the future.
In this article, we’ll explore four ways RPA is transforming the manufacturing industry and look at companies that are seizing on that potential.
- 1. Automating away service line inefficiency
Keeping service lines efficient is essential for running your business well.
Every inefficient process has the potential to create a domino effect of other inefficiencies, impeding your ability to serve your customers and making it more difficult to implement and deploy new technologies.
A record to report process, for instance, that can’t get information to important stakeholders in a timely fashion might seem like an isolated problem. But if the data that your team is feeding into that report requires manual verification to ensure it’s correct, then a slowdown in the latter can lead to compounding delays in the former.
Many companies are pursuing digitization to help solve these problems. A PwC survey shows that many are already in the process of digitizing their supply chains—one-third have already digitized, and three-fourths are expecting to by 2020.
Digital transformation of this sort is a massive challenge, and many organizations are discovering that automation is key to surmounting the problems that come up.
- 2. Getting products where they need to be, faster
The most effective manufacturing operations focus as much on getting the product into a customer’s hands as designing and creating it.
In a globalized economy, however, shipping and distribution are easier said than done.
Tarsus Distribution, a leading IT distributor in South Africa, struggled to keep up with inefficient processes that made shipments a struggle. Before RPA, their shipping process required significant manual data entry—an already slow process pushed to the breaking point by a staffing shortage. RPA proved to be the solution to that problem and the key to achieving digital transformation.
Tarsus Distribution started with a pilot that took on the shipping inefficiency. Working with RPA, Tarsus deployed a robot that automated the formerly manual data entry that vendor invoices required. Problems quickly appeared, and exceptions overwhelmed them. Undeterred, Tarsus found the problems didn’t originate from the robot but from how they formatted their invoices.
After resolving that challenge, Tarsus gained the benefits they sought and kept scaling RPA. Tarsus eventually automated data capture and data-entry processes on many of their most significant IT vendor accounts, including HP and Lenovo.
With robots at their side, they were able to ensure complete data accuracy while processing shipments faster than ever.
The ROI of automation:
- 100% data capturing and data entry accuracy
- 76 shipments processed by the robot in three hours
- Three to four hours of manual work saved per shipment
- 3. Speeding up back-end finances
Your pace to the smart-factory future is only as fast as your back end.
Financial operations can be incredibly complex, and they can quickly become chaotic as the number of orders and updates grows. The more systems become interconnected, the more chances there are for errors to compound.
Keeping the many pieces of a global manufacturing process moving is too complex to do swiftly if you don’t have software robot assistance. According to an Information Technology Intelligence Consulting survey, one hour of downtime costs 85% of companies more than $300,000.
Clariant, a specialty chemicals manufacturer, struggled to keep up with the number of invoices they needed to process. Clariant has a Global Business Services team that supports the accounts-payable needs of 52 business units across the world, which results in a volume of more than 800,000 invoices.
The scale of the process meant that these invoices varied in language and format, and while some vendors sent a neatly ordered form, others sent a hastily scrawled note. This scale eventually became a weight. Collating, organizing, and using all of this data involved manual tasks at almost every step, which caused inefficiency and errors.
With the RPA Platform, Clariant has automated significant portions of its invoice processing. Nearly half of the invoice processing Clariant does in its pilot region is now entirely automatic.
The ROI of automation:
- 50% of invoice processing in the pilot region is now automatic
- 2,500 invoices processed per month entirely with robots
- 4. Scaling new technology adoption
Scaling is a consistent challenge when deploying new technologies.
Another PwC study shows that industrial manufacturers plan to invest $907 billion per year in digitization. The success of these investments will depend on how new technologies are deployed and scaled—not who spends the most.
A single line worker with IoT-enabled glasses, for instance, hardly offers an improvement. Before an organization can reap the benefits of a new technology, all the relevant employees must have:
- Access to that technology
- Training to use it properly
- Internal support to make sure it remains functional
Scaling is a much bigger challenge than ordering a new tool for every employee, but at scale, the benefits can become greater than the sum of their parts.
Similarly, the best benefits of RPA are when organizations scale robots across the company, exceeding the bounds of any one department.
By integrating, connecting, and optimizing legacy systems, RPA can help vault organizations into new levels of efficiency and reach ROI quickly. As manufacturers add new technologies on top, RPA can organize, circulate, and analyze the resulting data, creating opportunities for even more iteration.
General Electric (GE), a Fortune 500 company with product lines across the aviation, energy, and manufacturing industries, understood the value of RPA. Before partnering with RPA, GE had implemented RPA but hadn’t yet scaled it as far as they wanted—leaving potential benefits unrealized.
GE worked with RPA to achieve two major goals: high-scale RPA adoption and enhanced productivity across the enterprise.
GE created an RPA Center of Excellence (CoE) that spanned multiple regions and, with help from companies, trained hundreds of finance professionals to use RPA. After the initial results, GE also decided to incorporate machine learning and business process management into its growing RPA and automation stack.
The versatility and product vision behind the RPA platform made it key for GE’s present and future automation strategies. With companies, they garnered hundreds of millions of dollars in productivity benefits by scaling RPA.
The ROI of automation:
- $150 million productivity benefit by the end of 2017
The shift to RPA provides a linchpin technology for manufacturers that need efficiency now to stay competitive, and scalability later to thrive in the face of innovation and competition.
At scale, RPA seamlessly connects your legacy systems and new technologies. Automation allows your to better gather information, analyze data, inform decision making, and speed up innovation.
The manufacturing industry is undergoing disruption from multiple angles, but operational capability will always remain a competitive differentiator. RPA is the best way to keep up and enable your organization to lead.
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