From automation and robotics to more strategic use of digital and data, manufacturing businesses are looking to technology as a business priority. Of the 70+ UK-based manufacturing businesses surveyed on their priorities as part of our UK Manufacturing Operations Pulse Survey: November 2021 results eight in ten were planning to increase their technology budget. So where and how do they see these investments supporting their future direction?
Robotics and factory automation is the single biggest priority area according to our research – and it is understandable why. It’s an area where most organisations remain underinvested. Post-Brexit and in the wake of the economic shocks caused by efforts to mitigate the effects of COVID-19, manufacturers have realised they need to up their game. In particular, pandemic lockdowns provided a moment to consider how to avoid future factory shutdowns. Robotics and automation will play a major role.
The second most-pressing priority, according to our survey, is the introduction of digital manufacturing platforms. Organisations not only need to consider deployment but unification, too. Those with multiple facilities should seek to avoid creating real-time monitoring systems on diverse platforms operating on different architectures. Instead the goal must be to standardise across the organisation – and along the supply chain, if possible – in order to build an application once and re-deploy it multiple times.
On the factory floor, there are two areas where the intention to increase focus is overwhelming – 60% of manufacturers plan a greater emphasis on upskilling; 41% on predictive maintenance. Both make sense, the latter not necessarily for obvious reasons alone.
Upskilling is an imperative, not least to address the misguided perception that technology solutions are designed to take jobs away rather than augment delivery. As the factory moves from analogue dials, handles, and levers to digital interfaces, the workforce will need to best understand how to use new technology for more precise decision making.
Predictive maintenance, meanwhile, offers twin benefits. First, it allows manufacturers to preserve machinery before it breaks, avoiding costly repair bills and even more costly shutdowns. Second, the ability to predict and prevent downtime allows organisations to make capacity planning decisions with greater confidence, opening up the possibility of running a second product across the production line in the same 24-hour period, for example.
Data analytics is another area of increased focus, one that will grow in importance in the coming years. As organisations deploy more digital technology, the volume of data a manufacturer collects will grow exponentially. It may not yet be possible to anticipate every use, but expect data-driven decision making to take centre stage. Consider, for example, applying visual artificial intelligence (AI) to identify machine defects. Or using an AI model that accounts for viscosity, ambient and core temperatures, and flow rate to ensure paints are applied at exact volumes.
What should organisations do next?
Each will have their own priorities from the solutions explored above. Nevertheless, all are likely to benefit by:
- Prioritising a clear maintenance strategy
When it comes to manufacturers having a clear maintenance plan they need to be reactive to their specific needs. Both predictive and prescriptive go hand in hand in the manufacturing industry. Predictive maintenance uses machine learning and logic to tell you what can be done and keeps updating. Prescriptive maintenance goes one step further in trying to automate the maintenance process where the machine makes its own decisions. Both are required to take manufacturers on the digital maintenance journey.
- Thinking holistically about platform and data models
Get platform unification right first time and it will bring dual benefits: efficiencies and insights. The application of data may not be obvious instantaneously but it will reveal itself over time.
To take the two points forward into practical action, organisations need to effectively piece together the benefits of the varied yet connected technologies in a way that sets out a compelling business case, monitors progress and shows how effectively transformation is taking place. Getting control of the data is crucial -through sensor data feeding, pre-maintenance alert plans to Al-generated intelligent process chains via our PwC Factory Intelligence Platform. The platform enables fast-track factory digitalisation and helps manufacturers stay ahead of the curve. All are areas we’ve recently supported clients with.