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Top Five Challenges Facing the Manufacturing Industry

Thanks to the advent of new technology and lean manufacturing processes combined with a strengthening economy, the manufacturing industry is experiencing a resurrection of sorts. Still, despite all the good news in the manufacturing world challenges continue to exist. Fortunately, there are ways manufacturers can leverage the latest advancements in technology to face these challenges head on and continue their upward momentum with little disruption.

Top Manufacturing Challenges

Skilled Labor

With the Baby Boomer generation entering retirement, the manufacturing industry is facing a looming labor shortage. According to Deloitte there will be somewhere between 2 million and 3.5 million unfilled manufacturing jobs by 2025.

However, as technology has advanced, manufacturers find themselves not just in need of employees, but employees with a different set of skills. As certain tasks have become automated and machine sensors have become more commonplace, allowing manufacturers to collect large amounts of data, the jobs makeup in manufacturing is shifting. Manufacturers now need employees with a high-tech skill set, proficient in mathematics and possessing an analytical mind. The need for a largely unskilled, trainable workforce that once made up much of manufacturing is shrinking as technology becomes more prevalent.

Fortunately, advances in augmented reality technology and virtual reality are making it easier for manufacturers to train on the job while cutting costs.

Project Management

To get products to market manufacturers must adhere to extremely tight and stressful timelines. In the manufacturing space, projects are typically time, cost and quality sensitive and as a result tend to be tightly controlled and rigid.  Manufacturers that miss deadlines risk losing out on millions of dollars in potential revenue and profit.

Such tight control and rigidity means less ability to update scope or make adjustments as the project progresses.  Many of these projects require a design commitment early on, with little flexibility to adjust as new information emerges or requirements change.  That can be quite frustrating for a team that wants to produce the best product they can but is handcuffed by deadline constraints.

Utilizing project service automation software that includes universal resource scheduling, manufacturers can quickly adjust the schedule and find resources that are available based on the predicted completion date of the project or defined tasks/roles required.

“Intelligence” from Machines

Increasingly, the Internet of Things (IoT) is being utilized by manufacturers, with a majority of companies either having already implemented, or in the process of implementing IoT devices and machines.

With these “smart” machines, organizations gather data that can help them implement predictive maintenance and improve productivity.  However, gathering the data is the relatively easy part. Aggregating and analyzing that data is a little more challenging.

While organizations may have smart machines already on their shop floor, many of them do not have the systems in place to extract and analyze the data being captured by these systems.  In this sense, manufacturers are missing out on a critical opportunity: leveraging real-time data on cycle times, quality yields by machines, production run, utilization and other metrics.  The entire manufacturing industry needs to improve upon their data mining capacities so they can make faster and better real-time decisions.

Implementing an IoT solution designed to help manage predictive maintenance and analytics as well as remote monitoring can help manufacturers monitor and analyze their data in real-time and help predict when maintenance of an asset is required.  As a result manufacturers can move from repair or replace maintenance model to a predict and fix model.

Customer Self-Service Applications

With most manufacturers focused on the timely delivery of quality products as they seek to maximize revenue and profit, customer self-service has fallen by the way side.  As a result, antiquated and/or limited functionality, customer facing applications or portals are commonplace.  Customers looking for information must pick up the phone and call the manufacturer; a frustrating task for customers in the digital age.

An organization’s customers typically consist of end-customers, partners (or service providers), and sub-contractors, or any combination of these. These customers have different needs, concerns and requirements for working with and interacting with manufacturers.  With separate end-customer and partner portals that are connected to a singular source/application, such as Microsoft Dynamics 365, manufacturers can provide every customer with a way to log inquiries, search for knowledge or solutions, request new work requests or obtain updates on work order status. Subcontractors can accept, track, and update work assigned to them, and communicate with the manufacturer through the self-service portal. All of this information could then be stored in the system and available to the manufacturer to support their customers, allowing them to provide timely information to all parties in a digital format.

System Usability

Internal system users are no different than customers who prefer self-service applications to picking up the telephone. Internal users want updated systems that help them improve job performance. Updated systems typically provide greater insight, flexibility, and speed that allows employees to utilize the applications to perform their job more effectively and efficiently. This allows employees to use the system as a tool to complete their job rather than hinder completion of tasks.

However, the existing AS/400 systems that many in the manufacturing industry continue to utilize cannot provide the user experience that today’s workers demand.

There are many possible solutions available to manufacturing firms looking to provide a superior user experience. For example, Microsoft Dynamics 365 (field service, customer service, project service) and Field Service Mobile solutions provide an updated user interface experience, greater flexibility based on business processes in various business units, and gives users the capability to work remotely — including offline capabilities on laptops and smart devices.

These are just a few of the challenges the manufacturing industry faces in 2018.  Fortunately, there are systems and applications available today that organizations can utilize to provide the user experience worker’s and customers expect, and the functionality and data organizations require to succeed.

Whether its sales management, customer service, marketing, field service management, connected field service (IoT), project service automation, or portals, Microsoft Dynamics 365 may be the answer to some of your most pressing needs.

Whatever your challenges may be, your organization cannot ignore them if it wants to continue to ride the manufacturing resurgence. Contact Hitachi Solutions today for more insight on how Microsoft Dynamics 365 can help take your organization to the next level.

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