Adapting Manufacturing to Disruptive Environments

Learn how manufacturers are adapting to be more flexible and greener without breaking the bank.

Gone are the days when manufacturing issues were limited, short-term, and easily resolved. Nowadays, companies face more significant and intricate challenges that are worldwide in scope, including pandemic, supply chain disturbances caused by wars, scarcity of resources, a fluctuating regulatory landscape, and the effects of climate change.

In response, manufacturers are making changes to adapt:

  • The tactics for making circular operations pay
  • The benefits of examining local supply chain options and lower-carbon logistics
  • The rising importance of risk assessment in supply chain management
  • The use of advanced technologies like augmented reality on the factory floor

Uncovering the Benefits of Sustainable Operations

With the overconsumption of natural resources posing a threat to our future, many manufacturers are adopting a circular business model to address the issue. The approach of creating a product that can be utilized by multiple customers on multiple occasions is not new, yet it is now gaining traction. This approach not only addresses the issue of overconsumption, but also creates new revenue streams for manufacturers by developing services for their products. In order to encourage all businesses to operate more sustainably, it’s crucial to focus on implementing eco-friendly measures in delivery and logistics. By combining a variety of technologies – such as solar panels on refrigerated trucks, paperless warehouses, and real-time data and routing software to reduce fuel consumption on delivery routes, the carbon footprint of the supply chain can be significantly reduced.

The Visionaries of the Supply Chain

The traditional approach to demand forecasting suffers from a major flaw: it relies entirely on historical data, which can become outdated very quickly. The COVID-19 pandemic has made it clear that relying on this method during extended periods of disruption can be problematic. As a result, companies are turning to new demand planning methods such as predictive modeling to better navigate these challenging times.

In today’s business world, unexpected events such as extreme weather conditions or political unrest can happen at any moment. To better manage these surprises, businesses are shifting their global supply chains closer to their customers. By doing so, companies can respond faster to unexpected changes in both the world and their markets. While global supply chains won’t be going away anytime soon, many companies are creating a more balanced approach by focusing on both global and local supply chains.

The COVID-19 pandemic caused major shutdowns across industries that relied on global supply chains, which had been the norm for the past three decades. As a result, new supply chain regulations have placed an emphasis on risk management. This entails considering the total cost of manufacturing a product, from raw materials to distribution to the end customer. In essence, when slowdowns become more frequent, it is essential to examine each step of the process more closely.

One of the biggest challenges of complex supply chain networks is the difficulty of taking back products once they have been sold, leading to the wild world of product recalls. Before dealing with the issue, the problem must be pinpointed. In a manufacturing relationship with multiple partners, it is difficult for companies to assess varying qualities of raw materials, track down the source of a defect, and quickly alert customers to a problem. To mitigate the risks, manufacturers can improve real-time data access, conduct mock recalls as training exercises, review their sourcing practices, and coordinate communication plans with customers and supply chain partners.

AR we there yet?

Revolutionizing the Factory Floor with Augmented Reality, Gone are the days of carrying heavy manuals around the factory floor. Nowadays, repair and assembly technicians are utilizing specialized glasses or portable tablets to access next-step instructions at their fingertips. Augmented reality (AR) is transforming the manufacturing industry by providing workers with immediate access to knowledge and expertise that would normally require years of experience and education to obtain. The most beneficial aspects of AR are its ability to streamline business processes, such as assembly work, repairs and field service, and the design of new manufacturing spaces.

Field of nightmares. Field service management is getting less “fieldy.” Instead of sending technicians to customer locations – some of which are remote and downright inhospitable – to evaluate and repair equipment, companies are using IoT-connected devices, AI, and other advanced tech for predictive maintenance and virtual service calls. Everyone benefits: Customers avoid downtime costs; employees spend less time traveling between service locations; and the environment benefits thanks to the resulting lower-carbon footprint. These advances are also bringing new riches to companies that go from being just product vendors to being service providers.

The Rise of Digital Twins in Manufacturing, As digital twins become more affordable and simpler to use, manufacturers are exploring new opportunities to improve their processes. Examples include enhancing product designs by testing for potential scenarios in controlled environments, offering predictive maintenance for machines to prevent costly downtime, and encouraging sustainable practices by recommending eco-friendly ways to source raw materials and transport products. However, for digital twins to accurately reflect their physical counterparts and provide value, manufacturers require vast amounts of high-quality data sourced through sensors, the Industrial Internet of Things, and collaboration with industry partners.

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