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Where do we stand with digital transformation in manufacturing? 

In his contribution to our recent Manufacturing 2020 report, Columbus CEO and author of the bestselling business manual “Disrupt or Die”, Thomas Honoré pointed out that even before Industry 4.0 had fully matured, 'Industry X.0’ ideas were already being developed.

For organisations in the manufacturing sector, particularly small and mid-sized businesses, the pace of digital transformation can seem relentless. Next greatest developments are announced, seemingly, one after another, often leaving these businesses asking the question, “so what technologies are viable now, ready to be harnessed by manufacturers today?”

While new technologies in the development stage will bring digital disruption in the future, here are three key technologies that are already in place and beginning to reap rewards for manufacturers.

The truly connected Smart Factory is here

A 2015 World Economic Forum Report on Industrial IoT (IIoT) projected the technology would revolutionise output from major industries – including manufacturing, agriculture and energy – that account for two-thirds of global GDP. Since then, the IIoT revolution has indeed seen increased automation and a major increase in the number of deployed connected devices.

But the scope for IIoT is far wider than this – it is beginning to connect entire organisations from top to bottom.

On the shop floor, IoT devices are being used to monitor and track assets throughout the supply chain. The data they provide enables predictive maintenance through monitoring the quality and condition of the equipment. In turn, this enables the automation of field service team scheduling for maximum efficiency. When ERP systems are integrated with data streams from IoT devices on the shop floor, the vision of a truly connected Smart Factory becomes a reality.

As-a-Service delivery – what you need, when you need it

The as-a-Service business model represents a shift away from the extensive capital expenditure for organisations in the manufacturing sector. This is of particular value to manufacturers that experience seasonal demands and need to scale operations up or down accordingly or rapidly deploy new capabilities. And the ‘aaS’ model isn’t limited to software, we’ve seen a large number of variations hit the market – Platform-as-a-Service, Communications-as-a-Service, and even physical Infrastructure-as-a-Service. 

Our recently launched eCommerce solution is a prime example of the cloud being used to deliver capabilities on an ‘on-demand’ basis. Columbus eCommerce allows any B2B organisation to deploy a retail, B2C-style web presence within weeks via Microsoft Azure. And Microsoft’s announcement of Dynamics 365 Business Central, which brings Dynamics NAV functionality into the next generation with as-a-Service deployment, provides excellent opportunities for small- and mid-sized businesses to quickly and cost-effectively harness the power of the cloud.

Artificial Intelligence adopts a key role

With the AI market projected to significantly grow from $21 billion this year to over $190 billion by 2025, 2018 is certainly shaping up to be the year AI breaks into the manufacturing industry on a wider scale with more advanced deployments.

Customer-facing deployments such as conversational AI have taken great leaps forward over the past year. Chatbots offer around-the-clock support to customers, helping address routine and repetitive tasks without the intervention of an employee by drawing on knowledge stored in the company CRM system. This frees up customer service employees to dedicate more time for more complex customer enquiries – a task AI solutions will eventually also begin to support.

There are further opportunities for AI to automate data structuring, sorting and analytics using the significant volume of data generated by IoT devices and connected processes – AI will indeed play an active role in informing decision-makers of improvements to business process efficiency.

Smart technology requires smart operators

Once manufacturers are comfortably harnessing the technologies that comprise Industry 4.0, they can begin to look towards Industry X.0 – but they shouldn’t wait too long and get left behind in the digital transformation race! You can find full expert insights into these emerging technologies in our Manufacturing 2020 report, which can be downloaded here.

download the Columbus manufacturing 2020 report

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