<img src="https://secure.leadforensics.com/133892.png" alt="" style="display:none;">

In the dynamic manufacturing environment, automation of processes and administrative tasks is a key driver for improving efficiency, reducing costs, and staying competitive. Recently, we had the opportunity to engage in a thought-provoking conversation about process automation with industry expert Bjørn Pedersen, Manufacturing Practice Lead. Our discussion focused on practical use cases for the manufacturing industry and how to bring them to life in your business.

Here, we distill the key questions and answers from the discussion, shedding light on the current state and application of automation in manufacturing.

What is the current maturity level of business automation in manufacturing?

Bjørn Pedersen: We see a wide span in the maturity levels of companies regarding the automation of business processes. While some still use paper-based processes, others are adopting advanced technologies like mixed reality. However, the baseline for this type of automation is quite low overall.

When discussing manufacturing, many might immediately think of physical process automation, such as robots programming powerful equipment to process products, assembly robots, or material-handling conveyor systems. These applications are crucial for cutting costs and streamlining production.

However, in this context, automation frequently refers to new applications and technologies that automate tedious administrative tasks, reducing human inefficiency and improving business processes. This type of automation helps streamline operations by eliminating repetitive manual tasks, allowing employees to focus on more strategic activities.

Why do you think the adoption of business automation in manufacturing is still relatively low?

Bjørn Pedersen: There are multiple factors at play. Many manufacturers have significant technical debt with outdated software and machinery that are still functional but not optimized for modern automation solutions. These systems have evolved over the years, accumulating layers of old software and equipment crucial for production but not easily updated. The cost and complexity of updating these systems are perceived to be daunting and expensive. Many companies are profitable and operational without digitized solutions, and no urgent market pressure drives them to change.

That’s partly true, but they often don’t consider the missed opportunities to increase their profits by optimizing productivity and processes. Unfortunately, without a clear, burning platform, they continue to operate as they always have. The belief that process automation is hard and expensive is misleading because, with modern low-code/no-code technologies like the Power Platform stack, manufacturers can achieve automation in weeks versus months. These technologies can connect your legacy solutions into one ecosystem that operates together, offering significant improvements in efficiency without massive investments.

Enable intelligent business automation

Can you share some practical business automation use cases that manufacturing should prioritize? 

Bjørn Pedersen: Absolutely, the following use cases illustrate how process automation can address various challenges and improve efficiency in manufacturing. To make it easier, I would divide them into three major groups and subgroups:

Safety automation and efficiency

  • Servitization enablement. Servitization opens new revenue streams for manufacturers by offering ongoing service and maintenance options. Additionally, it helps you gain customer insights after the equipment has been produced and sold, providing unique connections with end-users and creating opportunities for upselling or future sales. For example, one of our customers implemented a system to manage and monitor their machines globally. By partnering with service companies and providing them with a dedicated app, they could track service history, order parts, and integrate IT connections with the machines. This approach offered comprehensive insights into the operational status of the equipment, enabling proactive maintenance, reducing downtime, and improving service efficiency. It extended the lifespan of assets and ensured optimal performance and customer satisfaction.
  • Product recalls and traceability. Manufacturers can build applications to improve recall handling. These automated tools can include real-time tracking of affected products, assessing the scope of the issue, coordinating actions to mitigate risks, and generating records for compliance reporting. Additionally, these apps can provide easy access for both end-users and in-house personnel to register recalls and log traceability data. A user-friendly interface and AI-based validation scenarios ensure accuracy without overwhelming your users with manual data entry tasks, enhancing overall efficiency.
  • Energy monitoring and sustainability. By implementing apps for real-time monitoring, manufacturers can proactively track energy consumption and the environmental impact of their production machinery. This approach not only ensures compliance with ESG regulations but also helps in identifying areas for energy savings and sustainable practices. For instance, you can use data feeds from their machines to provide real-time information on mobile devices for service technicians or production managers, minimizing reliance on manual checks and paperwork.

Supply chain automation

  • Automated waste management and reduction. An app can be built to track waste generation throughout the supply chain, offering insights into areas of waste and opportunities for reduction. By automating this process, you can gain real-time analytics on waste production, enabling them to identify sources of waste and take proactive measures to minimize it.
  • Quality management. Quality management in manufacturing often relies on highly skilled and in-demand quality inspectors who have busy schedules and are responsible for ensuring compliance and product quality. By automating the workflow for these inspectors, you can optimize their time and ensure accurate and efficient inspections. Automated tools can streamline the registration of quality checks, minimizing the reliance on manual processes that are prone to errors.
  • Supplier audits. Manufacturers can automate the ways they evaluate new suppliers. For example, you could standardize checklists and digitize documentation and communication tools, ensuring your vendors meet the required standards and contract terms. An automated workflow can integrate various checks, such as compliance records, quality performance, and credit history. This approach reduces the manual effort involved in cross-functional checks and ensures a comprehensive evaluation of suppliers before doing business with them.
  • Factory capacity utilization. Cross-company or plant-specific sales and operations planning (S&OP) is often handled via analytics. However, manufacturers can automate these processes to meet customer demand efficiently while optimizing resources. Automation can handle everything from forecasting future demand and assessing current inventory levels to determining production schedules to balance supply and demand. S&OP often involves cross-functional collaboration and regular meetings to review and adjust plans based on changing market conditions and business priorities. Automation reduces some of this back-and-forth, enhancing agility and speeding up response times.

Shopfloor automation

  • Shift handover reports. Manufacturers can streamline shift handover reports through automation, enabling supervisors to input machine statuses, track production progress, and communicate vital updates during shift transitions. You can also streamline startup checks with digital checklists. Operators follow these checklists to ensure equipment readiness and operational status before starting the production line, mitigating problems and maintaining product quality.
  • Issuing PPE. Automation improves the tracking and distribution of personal protective equipment, providing workers with reliable safety equipment and promoting a safer work environment.
  • Recruiting, qualification, and certification processes for plant employees. There is a significant opportunity to create personal apps for shop floor workers to manage their certification and training needs. These apps can allow employees to review their certification status and request recertification when necessary. Additionally, the apps can handle other training requests, ensuring employees have easy access to the resources they need to maintain their qualifications and stay compliant with industry standards.
  • Product data enrichment and translation. Automating product data enrichment and translation can significantly improve the accuracy and efficiency of managing product information. One of our customers developed an app to streamline the enrichment of product data across various systems. This app allowed them to centralize product information, making managing and updating data in multiple languages easier. By integrating AI capabilities, the app ensured accurate translation and consistent product information across different markets. Moreover, the app enabled the customer to enrich product descriptions, specifications, and other relevant data seamlessly. This approach not only saved time but also enhanced the customer experience by providing accurate and comprehensive product information globally.
  • Drawings and other documentation for shop floor use. Automation in this area can greatly enhance operational efficiency and accuracy. We developed an app to streamline the distribution and access of technical drawings and documents on the shop floor for one of our customers. This app allowed workers to easily access the latest versions of drawings and other relevant documentation directly from their mobile devices or tablets. By ensuring that all shop floor employees had real-time access to updated technical drawings, work instructions, and other necessary documentation, the app eliminated delays and errors associated with outdated paper documents. This approach improved the accuracy of work performed on the shop floor and reduced the time spent searching for the correct documents.

How can manufacturers effectively implement these use cases?

Bjørn Pedersen: Modern technology can effectively enable these use cases, with tools such as Microsoft’s Power Platform, especially Power Automate, playing a crucial role. Power Automate’s low-code environment integrates seamlessly with existing systems, allowing manufacturers to implement incremental improvements without overhauling their infrastructure. This versatility makes it ideal for tackling technical debt and outdated software. Power Automate enhances traceability, compliance, and proactive monitoring, streamlining workflows and ensuring efficiency.

However, technology is, in a way, the easy part. The most complicated and critical first step for all manufacturers is to identify their own unique use cases with the highest impact and prioritize them. This challenge requires alignment among many stakeholders from various business areas. It involves understanding the organization’s specific pain points, potential improvements, and strategic goals. By doing so, you can ensure that you target the areas that will provide the greatest return on investment and drive significant operational improvements.

It sounds like a heavy task requiring a lot of time and work..

Bjørn Pedersen: It depends. If a company has plenty of resources, good internal processes, collaboration, and a team that can manage the governance of the process, it can potentially be solved internally by the manufacturer. However, in my experience, this is rarely the case. People are busy with their daily jobs and often not well-aligned. To solve it, you need external help to orchestrate the process, gather everyone, and ensure alignment.

That’s where Columbus comes in. We assist manufacturers in identifying ideas and prioritizing use cases together, building an automation center of excellence, and then bringing them to life using powerful technologies like Power Automate. For simplicity, we have packaged this into one offering, which includes a one-week intensive iteration through workshops designed to:

  • Build your understanding of the Power Platform and the possibilities of workflow automation in your business.
  • Identify potential use cases for digitization and automation in your business.
  • Prototype and prioritize solutions for specific use cases based on your implementation complexity and business value.
  • Understand what is required to build an Automation Center of Excellence in your business.

By participating in this workshop, manufacturers can effectively address their unique challenges, enhance productivity, and maintain competitiveness in an ever-changing industry. Click on the banner below to find out more.

Enable intelligent business automation



Discuss this post

Recommended posts

Toby Mankertz, Business Transformation Advisor at Columbus, is joined by Kevin Bull, Product Strategy Director, and Nicholas Lea-Trengrouse, Head of Business Intelligence, to discuss applying artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) within manufacturing organizations.
As manufacturers increasingly adopt smart practices to remain competitive, cybersecurity emerges as a critical concern. The recent findings from the IBM X-Force Threat Intelligence Index report highlighted the severity of the issue, ranking manufacturing as the top attacked industryfor the third consecutive year. This highlights the urgent need for manufacturers to reassess their cybersecurity strategies and implement robust measures to safeguard their operations.
Manufacturers are increasingly realizing the future of manufacturing is in the cloud. That statement isn’t as bold as it sounds; 94% of companies will use cloud services this year because they see the value in enhanced security and lowered operational costs with a more modernized cloud architecture. But manufacturers are also keenly aware that many big cloud migration deployments fail.
In the first part of our digital product passport (DPP) blog series, we speak to a range of experts in various industries about the reasoning behind the introduction of DPPs and the potential challenges businesses face.
In the second part of our digital product passport (DPP) blog series, we discuss how businesses can evaluate available technologies, ready themselves for DPPs, and take concrete steps towards implementation. Missed part one? Catch up by clicking here.
right-arrow share search phone phone-filled menu filter envelope envelope-filled close checkmark caret-down arrow-up arrow-right arrow-left arrow-down