June 8, 2018
Are You Ready to Provide Advanced Industrial Information Solutions to Your Manufacturing Customers?
Today’s industrial trends and buzzwords—Industry 4.0, the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), smart factories— all have a common denominator: information, in the form of industrial data. Machinery, hardware, and infrastructure services will always be essential, but they are becoming increasingly commoditized. Much-needed innovations in manufacturing are being realized by the exploitation of information throughout the supply chain—and are enabled by the use of advanced industrial information solutions.
To remain competitive and relevant in the future, industrial service providers must enter the information game now or be left behind. What does that mean—and how can you integrate industrial information solutions into your offerings in a practical way?
Shop-Floor IT: An Expanding Yet Underexploited Revenue Stream
Over the past 20 years or more, enterprise software and services have increasingly inundated every nook and cranny of the manufacturing organization—except the shop floor. This is ironic because for most manufacturers, shop-floor operations typically represent the biggest portion of their operating costs and capital investments. Yet investments in IT solutions on the shop-floor, such as manufacturing and quality intelligence solutions, have lagged significantly.
Shop-floor environments are typically complex—and still notoriously inefficient. Most companies blame the inefficiency on things like “natural process variations,” but the culprit is often the inability to understand, monitor, and control processes in a consistent and effective way. In short, manufacturers have an information problem—and it can be solved by solutions that provide a tighter grip on shop-floor information.
Statistical Process Control (SPC)-driven continuous improvement strategies like Six Sigma are popular on the shop floor but are often not responsive enough. Diagrams, charts, and manual analyses are valuable problem-solving tools, but they are typically applied to problems that have already passed. Often, root-cause analysis and methodical solution testing take days, weeks, or even months—and customers don’t have the patience to wait for the answers that will improve their products.
Why don’t manufacturers take advantage of the information solutions that are available today to solve what is essentially an information problem? Is it the expense? The lack of IT resources, which are stretched thin and committed to other areas of the business? These excuses are no longer valid with the availability of low-cost, scalable, easy-to-deploy, and easy-to-use software-as-a-service (SaaS) solutions.
The Greatest Opportunity Lies with the Customers You Already Serve
Industrial service providers that already have established and trusted relationships with manufacturers are in a uniquely strong position to offer information-based solutions and services. The path from providing services like routine process automation and control engineering projects, to complete factory design and construction, to industrial information solutions makes sense, for manufacturers and for service providers.
The benefits of such solutions are becoming increasingly apparent to operations management, who today are tech-savvy enough to make the connection between the operational data they are (or could be) collecting and the significant operational improvements they can gain. And many are in senior positions within their organizations, where they can make buying decisions directly rather than going through the IT middleman.
Operational managers in senior positions may already realize the transformative potential of information when applied to their shop-floor challenges. And even less-senior operations staff and shop-floor workers are familiar and comfortable with technology and software interfaces as they now use them daily in their personal lives. These tech natives are ready to embrace information-centric methods and solutions that can give them meaningful insight into the manufacturing process—and that can enable them to predict and respond to issues in real time, when changes matter most.
The one thing operational management teams typically lack is the in-depth level of IT marketplace knowledge that their IT counterparts possess. And because of a typical lack of IT resources (and their self-contained, specialized nature), many operational managers are not likely to turn to IT for solutions.
Instead, they are turning to their incumbent industrial service providers: trusted external experts who understand their challenges and the manufacturing environment.
Industrial Service Providers Are a Vital Resource for Manufacturing Customers—Now and into the Future
To successfully position your company as an industrial IT services provider, you must be able to quickly embrace information solutions that are specialized for manufacturing environments and formalize them as a core competence and an integral part of your services portfolio. In particular, look for:
- Software solutions that are easy to understand, easy to sell, and easy to deploy
- Solutions that are intuitive and user-friendly, so that adoption is easy for users at all levels
- Solutions that provide fast, visible benefits—and help operational managers easily communicate improvements to upper management
- Solutions that are easy to scale across lines and sites, so your customers can increase the benefits they get—and you can enjoy benefit from the growth sales revenue
The Factory of the Future—and the Future of Factories—Is Information-Based
Information—its collection, analysis, and practical application—is what drives innovation and gives manufacturers the ability to differentiate themselves in a competitive global marketplace. To take full advantage of the benefits that can be gained, manufacturers must extend their technology investments to the shop floor.
Industrial service providers need to position shop-floor IT competence and services firmly within their portfolios if they are to take advantage of this prime opportunity—and survive the next iteration of a rapidly changing industrial landscape.