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The manufacturing industry is constantly evolving. But this time, it’s the biggest evolution we’ve ever seen. Known as the Fourth Industrial Revolution or Industry 4.0, it’s arguably ‘the industry’s greatest change in more than 100 years’ (as the World Economic Forum called it back in 2017).

Here’s where the future of manufacturing is heading and how your organisation can keep up.

TIP: We just want to mention there’s going to be a lot of content coming up. To help you out, we’ve added ‘back to top’ links throughout this resource at regular points. We also recommend you bookmark this resource or save it to your desktop so you can leave and come back to it whenever you'd like.


1. An overview of how manufacturing has evolved

3. The advantages of the right technology

1. An overview of how manufacturing has evolved

Manufacturing: Then and now

Manufacturing has changed so much throughout history, adapting to meet new trends and demands for the world. Now, we’re in the Fourth Industrial Revolution or Industry 4.0 which is all about smart manufacturing, robotics, artificial intelligence (AI) and embracing the Internet of Things (IoT).

Here are a few of the current trends for the manufacturing industry…

  1. Smart factory - thanks to connected machines and sensors, you can better monitor your manufacturing processes and improve productivity, quality and compliance.
  2. Automation - by automating various manual labour-heavy tasks such as communications, and assigning actions and approvals, you can boost productivity and reduce the likelihood of human error.
  3. Customer centricity - customers should always be your core focus, regardless of your industry. Today’s manufacturers are expected to provide 24-hour support, a collaborative product design, mobile applications and more.
  4. Machine learning and AI - based on sensor data and other maintenance activities, ML and AI can help you make better predictions such as machine failures.
  5. Advanced analytics - leading on from the above, your data needs to be high quality and accurate if you’re to make informed predictions and business decisions.

We’ve covered these manufacturing trends and a few more in depth in this blog.

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KEY LEARNING: From marketing and sales interactions to your customer service, discover what modern-day customers expect from discrete manufacturers today in our blog post.

Read here

Adapting to the new normal

It’s not just technological changes that can transform an industry. There are also situations, some out of our control, that require us to quickly recognise them and adapt to ‘the new norm’. The COVID-19 crisis is one example. Climate change is perhaps another.

Here are some tips to help you swiftly adapt:

  • Seek advice from those who know best - you don’t need to invent a new way of working by yourself. Look to experts like leanchange.org to give you the tools you need to get started.
  • Use the right technology at the right time - new or better technological solutions can help support your new business changes.
  • Stick to best practices - in your hurry to embrace change, don’t forget about best practices.

Want to read about these tips on how to build the new normal in more depth? Check out the blog here.

DISCUSSION: We might be in the midst of Industry 4.0 but we should start thinking about the next revolution. It’s how you can ensure you’re always ahead of the competition.

Find out which three key technologies can keep you ahead

2. Introducing digitalisation

Why digital is ‘business as usual’ for manufacturers

Digitalising your manufacturing business is no longer a choice. It’s a question of pace - the faster you embrace it, the further ahead of your competition you can get.

Some common arguments against digitalisation are:

  • My business processes are working fine for me - why change something that isn’t broken?
  • My competitors aren’t embracing change so why should I?
  • We’ve always worked this way - won’t change jeopardise our success?

All are valid points. But you have to also think:

  • What if something breaks down the line?
  • What if your competitors are about to change or you have new competitors that you didn’t even know you had?
  • What if you could be seeing even more success?

There are various things that only digitalisation can help you achieve. For example, advanced analytics, automated processes and accurate predictions - without technology, you’d have to gather these insights manually which is time-consuming and fraught with human error. And automation certainly doesn’t exist without technology!

We discuss this in more detail in our blog. Read about why digital is fast becoming ‘business as usual’ in manufacturing here.

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3 benefits of automation

Automation allows your business to connect from end-to-end without manual interruption. It’s about creating a seamless flow of information, from input to output, throughout the business lifecycle. Here are three areas automation has a particularly big impact on…

  1. Data - you need to ensure your data flows seamlessly through your value chain. Start by analysing the data associated with the business processes that are causing you the most pain.
  2. Actionable insights - IoT and AI can improve efficiency but you also need to make the most of the actionable insights you get from them.
  3. Customers - today’s customers are more connected than ever so you need to ensure you’re connected to them too. Not just your processes.

Read more about the digital imperative and these three areas in more depth here.

Benefits of digitisation for manufacturing

6 steps to embracing digitalisation in manufacturing

We said it in an earlier section and we’ll say it again. It’s not just about whether you digitise your business. It’s how quickly you do it. Here are six ways you can be more digitally empowered…

  1. Optimise your supply chain - centralise your data and you’ll find it’s much easier to visualise and gain a better end-to-end view of your operations.
  2. Streamline the management of every aspect and function - consolidated data means you can access real-time insights and institutionalise gains in efficiency, oversee issues and offer proactive resolutions.
  3. Use predictive analytics - advanced insights can help you predict patterns, trends and issues. This can help you futureproof your business.
  4. Enhance your customer service and experience - innovative technology like IoT sensors and cloud-based data can help you provide remote tracking and proactive maintenance. This boosts your customer service and experience, and ultimately, your customer satisfaction.
  5. Adopt a data-centric approach - thanks to IoT-enabled assets, you can benefit from deeper insights and make more data-driven decisions.
  6. Empower your employees - as your business can offer a 360-degree view of client assets and work order records, your employees can benefit from enhanced productivity and efficiency. Less time searching for what they need and more time to spend on other tasks.

We discuss these six points in greater detail here.

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RESOURCE: Ensure you’re prepared for the latest industrial revolution in our report.

Download the Manufacturing 2020 report

How have other manufacturers benefitted from digitalisation?

We’ve talked a lot about the potential of technology for manufacturers so you’re probably wondering if there’s any evidence to back everything we’ve said. Luckily for you (and us), there is! Here are three manufacturers who have embraced digitalisation and reaped the benefits


1. Rolls Royce leveraged the power of predictive maintenance

By switching to the Microsoft Azure platform, the luxury car manufacturer combined the power of IoT, Azure’s powerful analytics, AI and connected field service. This meant they could leverage the potential of predictive maintenance and find the right analytics at the right time.


2. Orangebox introduced Connected Field Service

The transition to Microsoft Dynamics 365 Customer Engagement Field Service meant that Orangebox could create a centralised, accurate and up-to-date view of their customers. They also improved their business processes, from manufacturing to delivery and installation.

By waving goodbye to disparate systems and fragmented information, the workplace furniture manufacturer could boost efficiency and the quality of their field and customer service.


3. Greg Rowe streamlined their business processes

Disparate legacy systems made customer relationship management a labour-intensive task. Microsoft Dynamics Customer Engagement integrated with Business Central helped centralise essential data so the award-winning kitchen tap manufacturer could finally automate data, access real-time information, boost customer satisfaction, retention and more.

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3.The advantages of the right technology

Advanced analytics

Freak weather incidents, natural disasters, pandemics, geo-political events - these are all examples of unpredictable problems that can disrupt your manufacturing business overnight. Advanced analytics can help you mitigate these risks and uncover potential risks in your supply chain, though.

Brexit is one example. Here are some ways data analytics can help you mitigate the risks…


1. Avoid breaking your supply chain

An ERP system can consolidate all of your essential data and make this process much easier. Basically, you’ll need to create a dashboard that identifies your EU-based suppliers and customers and marks them with a traffic light rating to indicate how much trade will be affected.

2. Stay linked to the market

If your business might be affected by prices on commodities markets, direct links to market pricing will help. You’ll gain access to real-time data which can help you make predictions for the future.

3. Plan your workforce

If you rely on seasonable migrant labour from the EU, the dashboard we mentioned in point one will come in handy again. This can help you visualise the potential shift in this area and the likely impact on your cost base.

4. Keep up with the exchange rate

Monitoring how the pound’s value will change is important and live data feeds will be very useful here.

As you can see, data analytics can help you mitigate the risks of Brexit, an event that seems to be out of our control. The same principles apply to any other ‘uncontrollable’ event, such as a pandemic or natural disaster. Read more about the role analytics has to play in mitigating Brexit’s risks here.

To truly reap the benefits of your data, make sure it’s uncluttered and stays that way by following the 5 S methodology (also known as the lean manufacturing methodology):

  • Sort
  • Set in order
  • Shine
  • Standardise
  • Sustain

Discover tips on how you can declutter your manufacturing data here.

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Photo by energepic.com from Pexels

Artificial intelligence (AI)

AI can help boost the efficiency of your business processes. Using pre-defined algorithms, AI can highlight anomalies in your process or areas for improvement. You can easily access the data you need and pass it along to your IT team.

There are two key benefits of this.

  1. There’s no need for you to do it manually so there’s much less risk of human errors.
  2. You save time. You no longer need to trawl through multiple systems and spreadsheets; the data’s consolidated in one place for you and it’s simple enough to generate a report.

Just make sure you always have a full data set, otherwise the integrity of your transformation plan will be called into question. Here’s how to fill the gaps in your key data assets.


An ERP system

Manufacturing businesses often have reams and reams of data to manage. The right Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) system brings all of that data into one centralised location for you. This boosts visibility for your entire company, making it easier to visualise data, generate reports and make data-driven decisions.

Let’s discuss two example decisions and how Microsoft Dynamics 365 Finance & Operations (F&O), an ideal ERP software for the manufacturing industry, can help:

  • Optimising your supply chain
  • Planning for warehouse expansion

Optimising your supply chain

The F&O platform can help you improve your supply chain in five main ways:

  1. Sales demand forecasting is improved, thanks to the power of Azure machine learning.
  2. Constraint management is more efficient with F&O’s tools that help you identify and plan the use of physical capacity constraints.
  3. Proactive supplier collaboration and an agile approach to working are enabled as your strategic suppliers have controlled remote access to your ERP.
  4. Dynamic safety stocks are set based on the variations in the demand for your specified products/product groups.
  5. Customer demand management is more effective, thanks to D365 F&O’s ‘available to promise’ and ‘capable to promise’ sales order processing functionalities.

Read about these five ways in more depth here.

Planning for warehouse expansion

As your business expands, so will your warehouse(s). But it’s not just about expanding in space and number. You also need to modernise. Microsoft Dynamics 365 can support you with that.

  • Data-driven decisions
  • Data-driven insights
  • Manual tasks are automated
  • Efficiencies gained

We’ve discussed these points, plus the importance of choosing the right digital consultancy partner in this blog.

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How to plan for warehouse expansion

Business intelligence

Gaining access to your data is the first step to embracing digitalisation. The next is discovering the insights hidden in your data. This is where a tool like Microsoft Power BI comes in.

The data visualisation tool has come a long way since it was first introduced in 2015. A leader in Gartner’s Magic Quadrant for Analytics and Business Intelligence, Power BI can help you unlock the true power of your data.

Here are five tips to get you started:

  1. Consolidate your data
  2. Add in your own custom calculations
  3. Create a dashboard
  4. Find your key influencers (very useful if you’re analysing survey results or a similar data set related to customer experience)
  5. Uncover hidden insights

We wrote a blog post on these tips, along with handy screenshots to guide you through exactly what to do. Want to check it out? Click here and prepare to maximise your Power BI usage.

RESOURCE: Dynamics AX was great for manufacturing. Dynamics 365 is even better. Discover why you should upgrade to the 365 platform from AX in our features comparison sheet.

Discover the benefits of Dynamics 365

4. How to embrace digital transformation in the manufacturing industry

The importance of finding the right technological solution

According to Deloitte, 94% of executives in industrial companies see digital transformation as a top strategic priority. After all, productivity and customer satisfaction can be enhanced if you leverage the power of data from your factory floor right through to your customer call centre. It’s about connecting your operations to boost efficiencies and visibility all while allowing for seamless integrations, reducing costs and a customer-centric approach.

Plus, adopting a smart factory model is how you can stay competitive and keep pace with Industry 4.0.

Microsoft Dynamics 365 is one of the best ERPs for the manufacturing industry. Why? Let’s explore some key benefits…

  • Enhances visibility so you can streamline your operations - D365 can collect data from disparate sources and integrate with multiple systems so you can access this information in one location. That means better visibility which allows for cross-team collaboration, faster time-to-market and more informed business decisions.
  • Streamlines asset management - thanks to real-time insights, you can remotely monitor and proactively resolve any issues. You can also analyse performance and usage. A combination of all this ensures you can benefit from a 24-hour continuous uptime and minimised production and operational disruption.
  • Allows you to meet customer needs - centralised data means you gain a 360-degree view of your customers. This means you can truly understand your customers’ needs and anticipate their desires.
  • Boosts customer loyalty - predictive analytics allow you to analyse your customers’ unique buying habits and provide personalised offerings. You’ll also be able to solve problems before they happen - a proactive approach that can boost loyalty even more.

Read about the benefits of Microsoft Dynamics 365 for the manufacturing industry in this handy resource.

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The ultimate digital transformation roadmap for manufacturing

Manufacturers are always under pressure to transform their processes. Choosing the right technology for your manufacturing business is one stop in the overall digital transformation journey.

But you also need to think about which precise pieces of tech you need, whether you’ll need to train your employees and why transformation is important for the industry in the first place.

This is exactly what we discuss in our report with researchers from Raconteur. Discover the only digital transformation roadmap you’ll ever need as a manufacturer below.

Discover your roadmap to digital transformation


Working with an implementation partner

It’s not enough to simply jump on the latest technology trend in manufacturing and find the perfect piece of tech. You need to implement it before you can use it, of course. However, implementation projects are often lengthy, complex and require a lot of resources (time, money and manpower, for starters).

This is why it’s a good idea to start considering whether you should outsource your implementation project. There are many ERP consulting services for manufacturing businesses so how can you pick the right one?

Consider these factors:

  • The extent of their experience
  • Their reputation and success rates
  • The range of their services - for example, can they offer 24/7 support or do they offer a wide range of solutions?
  • Whether your business culture and theirs will click

You can address the above by:

  • Checking out their case studies and client testimonials
  • Taking a look at their blog or similar resources page. You’ll be able to tell how knowledgeable they are about digital transformation and/or your industry from the resources they publish

At Columbus UK, we’re proud to say we have over 30 years of experience in digital transformation projects, have successfully rolled out over 8,600 implementations and spend more than 1,700,000 hours consulting every year. Our clients are in a variety of sectors, from retail and distribution to manufacturing and equipment rental.

We know you probably want to see some evidence to back up our claims so here are some examples of how we helped manufacturers embrace digitalisation…

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A combination of Microsoft Dynamics 365 FO and Columbus can be the perfect partnership

Microsoft Dynamics 365 Finance & Operations is the ultimate ERP software for manufacturers. With it, you can achieve complete business visibility, end-to-end, and drive personalised digital transformation. And when you work with us, we can help you reap the platform’s benefits, quickly, successfully and in the long-term.

Interested in how a Microsoft-Columbus partnership can build you a digital future? Download our factsheet below to read about the software’s features and the benefits they can have on your various business processes, plus the Columbus difference in more depth.

Discover the benefits of D365 FO

Matt Drewett

Matt Drewett

Business Development Manager

Got some more questions?

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