Digital transformation for a sustainable manufacturing workplace
Full digitization buy-in reduces wastage across the entire manufacturing workflow.by Author
Successfully tackling climate change requires a big-picture outlook. Some industries, such as transportation, have received a lot of scrutiny on their efforts to "green" their operations and services. Manufacturing, however, has—relatively speaking—stayed out of the spotlight. Yet manufacturing is estimated to be responsible for up to a third of global greenhouse gas emissions.
In particular, the production of steel and cement, crucial for construction projects, is carbon dirty. Just these two types of manufacturing together account for about 15% of all global carbon emissions. Now there is a critical push to get these businesses to reconsider their operational strategy to make their enterprises more environmentally responsible.
One way to do this is for firms to aggressively digitize. Digitization is changing an analogue process into a computerized one. At its most basic level, digitization is converting paperwork into digital files. For example, an email is a digitized letter. But there is much more that digitization can do, especially when automation is added to the mix.
Automation is long established
Manufacturing is already well known for automation on the shop floor. Machines that perform what was previously entirely manual labour have been around for centuries. A simple water-wheel mill is a great example. While that type of automation frees up a lot of human resources, it isn't always quite so eco-friendly. In the age of electricity, manufacturers have come to rely largely on fossil fuels. So how can this industry clean up?
Full deployment of digitization
Modern manufacturing is a highly regulated industry. This means there is a lot of repetition in back-office functions. Over and over again, companies generate, complete and submit the same type of:
- Contracts, etc.
When these things are fully digitized—that is, they happen via computer instead of on paper—they lend themselves to automation. That automation reduces the waste of resources: humans, materials, capital, and time.
Unfortunately, however, many manufacturers have difficulty getting beyond the initial stage of digitization. Their workforce may be using a mixture of collaborative tools and procedures, including:
- Paper forms
They may even have some centralized technologies, such as a client database. But without full access available to all staff, including frontline employees, resource wastage will still be significant. The problem is a gap between the practical and the potential use of digital tools.
Sustaining the future
To bridge that gap and gain a foothold on sustainable practices, manufacturing businesses must:
- Digitize as many analog functions as possible
- Integrate digital technologies with each other
- Automate repetitive or predictable processes
- Stay up to date as technologies emerge and evolve
By investing this way in the future of the industry, manufacturers will be able to use digital operations to analyze outputs faster, in greater depth, and across different disciplines. The results? Be prepared to:
- Discard paper - Automate regular forms and generate templates that automatically draw information from a centralized database.
- Discover unknown process relationships - How does an action on one team affect another in unexpected ways? Task management and performance analysis will show you.
- Optimize the division of labor - Place people where and when they are most needed.
- Forecast sales and thus plant time more accurately - Reduce materials and energy wastage by keeping inventory tight and preventing machinery sitting on standby.
- Connect teams - Tighten up production and cut communications hiccups by unifying digital access across the business. No more version control issues.
- Integrate with external digital tools - Create a far-reaching strategic plan. Feed insights from shipping into logistics, from supply chain into warehouse, from competitors into executive management, and more.
- Talk directly to smart machinery - Prevent environmental and safety issues and identify hazards early by plugging into equipment AI.
Where to start
Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) tools are a prime way for manufacturers to get to grips with digitization that is both broad in scope and embedded deep within the firm. In other words, ERP can help ensure that all areas of the business are included, and all levels of employees are accessing and using digital tools.
Cloud-based ERP, which can be accessed from anywhere with an internet connection, is growing in popularity. It doesn't only provide detailed insights by linking together the applications from different business areas. It can be viewed at any time. That means critical, time-sensitive decisions can be made as needed.
Remote access also cuts down on the need for travel, to work, to satellite sites and to clients.
- Fewer in-person meetings
- Flexible working patterns
- Centralized information
These things cut commuting emissions. But they also make turnaround time on decisions shorter, and help to retain knowledgeable staff. There's no substitute for experience in running an efficient operation.