Automation in manufacturing is already commonplace, but as consumers become more demanding and the industry becomes more competitive, more and more companies are turning to technology to help automate and optimize time and labor-intensive processes and workflows.
By automating the way data is being captured, stored, and shared using advances in cloud and mobile-based technologies, manufacturers can optimize their processes and make better business decisions based on access to key operational information.
Here’s are three ways in which business process automation in manufacturing pays off:
No. 1 - A More Connected Manufacturing Process
Today’s manufacturers are always chasing the big picture. Having the ability to access and interpret business information across the enterprise — from the shop floor to the head office and across the supply chain is no longer a nice to have — it’s a must-have. Yet manual workflows and disconnected systems can hinder the right information getting to the right place at the right time.
With business process automation you get visibility into the process. Teams that are geographically dispersed can share work, communicate better, and find the experts they need to keep productivity at 100 percent.
In the past this was only possible with costly bespoke solutions but using the ubiquitous connectivity of mobile applications and the power of cloud workflows, you can skip the paper chase and fast forward to automated business processes. This allows scenarios that were previously reserved for mega corporations.
For example, with easy-to-use cloud-based mobile platforms you can move your most commonly used paper forms and data collection processes to smartphone-based applications, creating a standardized and automated workflow for collecting and sharing important information across the business.
Such applications are easy-to-use, require no coding skills, are available online and offline (they synch automatically with the cloud once you’re back in range) and can be customized to any process, whether it’s quality assurance, maintenance equipment logs, or inspections checklists.
Taking the latter as an example. Mobile inspection checklist applications streamline and automate the end-to-end process of conducting manufacturing inspection reviews. Pre-loaded or easily customized with all the form fields you need (and none you don’t), inspectors can enter the results of the inspection — who conducted it, what they found, and what, if any, anomalies were corrected — from any location. The data is then automatically and instantly uploaded to the cloud, where it’s stored securely. This data can then be presented in easy-to-use dashboards, to determine which machines are most likely to fail.
These smart applications not only connect the business processes you already have, they can also be scaled or adapted to other scenarios without the need to build new applications every time.
No. 2 - A More Complete End-to-End Manufacturing Process
The magic of digitized business process automation is that it eliminates silos across your firm.
For example, data captured from systems and personnel into mobile applications can be linked seamlessly with other software (such as a Google Analytics, Salesforce, or legacy CRM tools) and processes using cloud-based integrations and APIs. This eliminates redundant data entry, speeds insights, and fuels course-correcting actions in a way that is impossible when the data stays on the rockface of the business or locked away in a filing cabinet. This automated process is also just one of many opportunities to cut the hours and effort involved in collecting and keying that data in manually.
Mobile applications also allow you to easily build in conditional route linking options for streamlined actions. For example, if an inspections checklist returns an anomaly with a temperature sensor, your quality assurance manager receives an automatic corrective action to fix the issue. He can also dispatch tasks to others and ensure approval sign-offs are captured with digital signatures, all within a single application.
Finally, business process automation can make it easier to search information captured over time. Whether you need to find data generated by a work order or site inspection form, because it’s digitally captured and stored in the cloud, rather than rifle through old filing cabinets, the data you need is at your fingertips.
In this way, manufacturers maximize investments in existing technology investments and achieve higher levels of interoperability than is possible with manual processes.
No. 3 - A More Compliant Manufacturing Process
Manufacturers are subject to a range of regulations, many of which are constantly changing. Keeping track of all these regulations can be overwhelming. But compliance isn’t just a regulatory burden, in the interests of efficiency, workers and plant managers must also comply with standard operating procedures (SOPs).
We hear repeatedly how companies are faced with the consequences of non-compliance and the potential loss of revenue due to individuals forgetting or unintentionally not filling in items on the forms they were assigned. But mobile applications designed to support business process automation can be customized easily without the help of an application developer so required fields can be locked down.
For example, a safety manager who travels to different locations throughout the day can use an application to easily run through OSHA requirements and evaluate compliance right from within a safety checklist application. And, because the data that powers the application is stored in a centralized cloud repository, mobile form fields and checklists can be updated in minutes by the head office to reflect new regulations or SOPs and deployed immediately across the plant.
This is a huge asset to compliance processes enforcing discipline, simplicity, and efficiency into the process.
Be Connected, Be Complete, Be Compliant
In conclusion, business process automation is about reducing the amount of human intervention as much as possible, bringing uniformity to certain processes, saving time, achieving standardization and compliance, and creating a more connected business.
Take advantage of the tools available to you to automate the way your company captures, stores, and shares its data across people and systems — in a complete end-to-end framework. These tools also open the door for improvement in other areas as well. Having better data visibility and connected workflows allows your teams to see where they can improve and gives you the ability to stay ahead of the competition, while staying compliant.
James Robins is Chief Marketing Officer at GoCanvas.