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Why Should You Automate Manufacturing Processes: To Save Money, Make Money or Both?

Andres Richter

15 SEPT, 2020

No matter what they churn out at the end of the line, manufacturers are always searching for ways to lower costs and accelerate production without sacrificing quality. It all comes down to automation — automated manufacturing processes that use intelligent machines on the factory floor to fuel operational processes with minimal human intervention.

Fast forward to today’s "new normal." We're in the midst of a crisis that nobody expected, with manufacturers now having to rethink their operations, focus on remote working and adapt their processes and their workforce to regain and maintain business continuity. This has prompted manufacturers across all industry sectors to automate some or all of their workflows, while others are turning their attention to integrating automated processes into their company’s business management system to either save money, make money or both.

If your manufacturing business has already jumped on the automation bandwagon, here are five reasons you may want to consider linking your processes to your business management system:

1. Bid farewell to data silos.

Automation helps defuse conventional data silos, whereby only one group in your organization can access a set or source of data. When employees in one group are obliged to wait for tasks to be completed by those in another or search endlessly through data sources to find the right information to complete a task, their productivity wanes or grinds to a halt.

An enterprise resource planning (ERP) system automates routine business processes and stores data in a centralized location, not only making the data readily accessible to users who need it, but also enabling automated communication between teams, departments, and multisite or multinational companies. When you take this to your factory floor, you can save valuable time, resources and money by giving employees more time to do their jobs, instead of line managers having to hunt tirelessly for data.

2. Get smart.

Incorporating new technologies, such as artificial intelligence (AI) and the internet of things (IoT), into your manufacturing processes can help you achieve smarter workflows (i.e., deeper, more unified control of your processes).

With AI-enabled ERP, you can automate higher-level tasks beyond your daily, repetitive tasks, as the software consistently learns and becomes more adaptable. AI-enabled ERP lets you onboard intelligent tools like machine learning and natural-language interfaces that deliver actionable data insights.

Fast-emerging IoT-enabled ERP tools can help reduce product failure rates through the early detection of a problem or glitch in your manufacturing process. ERP, coupled with smart technologies, helps reduce operating and system maintenance costs, mitigate risk, increase system uptime and accelerate the design-to-manufacturing process.

3. Goodwill to all.

If you’re a manufacturer, labor is almost certainly your No. 1 expense — and the toughest to control. In the manufacturing sector, automated equipment and processes continue to replace employees on assembly line tasks, such as picking and moving parts, inspection, marking, and packaging. Not only are labor costs mitigated through automation, but automated processes also lead to tighter process control.

According to an article on TimesJobs, automated processes will essentially allow greater output for the same level of manual input. When employees’ workloads are reduced, they can focus on tasks that machines can't handle and use their time more effectively, which saves on labor costs. When processes are integrated into an ERP’s project management module, for example, you can automate forecasting, planning and the allocation of manpower and gain control of required versus actual work hours to save further labor expenses.

4. In support of planet earth.

Automated processes help reduce lost or misplaced materials and minimize expiration or spoilage of inventory, such as pharma or food products, to ultimately reduce waste. Automated processes also reduce scrap and rework because repetitive workflows tend to result in fewer failed projects and less trashing of raw materials.

Today, more than ever, manufacturers are onboarding automation to support more sustainable practices. Lights out manufacturing, for example, is a concept where a manufacturing plant is idle at night, with fully automated equipment and machines running but without a full team on site. When powered by an ERP manufacturing module, this scenario translates into substantial energy savings (e.g., lighting, heating, ventilation and air conditioning costs).

Not to mention, automation eliminates paper. With automated document management integrated into an ERP system, you can send data, attachments, images and more directly to your shop floor. Gone are the days of line managers wasting time tracking down drawings, purchase orders or packing sheets. Beyond valuable time savings, you are helping to facilitate a paperless industry.

5. The end of the line.

As a manufacturer, you want to enhance product quality, not only at the end of the line, but throughout the design-to-production process. By automating your quality assurance (QA) procedures, you can improve overall quality and reduce production costs, as well as streamline management of rework, rejects and scrap. You can also reduce the time it takes to generate and implement engineering change notices (ECNs) by controlling part revisions and inaccuracies via your ERP system, with real-time, up-to-date business data readily accessible from a single platform.

With quality processes integrated into your ERP, you can benefit from real-time monitoring and tracking at every stage in your production workflow, expediting response time. Where the "end of the line" is key, automating your quality processes can help you deliver superior end products on time and on budget.

Implementing automation in your manufacturing process is never a quick fix; it’s a continual process where your business evolves with fast-changing economies, technologies and customer demands — not to mention a sizable investment in software and machinery. For this reason, automation must be aligned with your long-term business goals in order to save money and make money.

When backed by a reliable business management system, your newly automated workflows can do both, with benefits such as fewer routine errors, less duplicated data and enhanced collaboration, from the input of raw materials at the start of the line to the finished product.

This article was adapted from Forbes and is for informational purposes only. This publication does not claim ownership of the content in the article.

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