How New Technology is Reshaping the Manufacturing Industry
Improving efficiencies and maximizing ROI has always been top of mind for manufacturers, but the fast-changing industry landscape has made it harder than ever to stay ahead of the curve. From remote workforces to shifting consumer demands, many manufacturers are turning to innovative technologies and solutions to remain competitive.
Technology adoption accelerated in the past year, and initiatives like predictive maintenance and Augmented Reality (AR) are increasingly essential. Quality-driven manufacturers continually invest in systems that reduce errors and downtime. Routine aspects such as tracking assets and maintaining strong safety protocols can benefit from enhanced technology.
In this article, we’ll explore how forward-thinking manufacturers are improving plant maintenance, network connectivity, asset tracking, mobility and more.
Manufacturing Technology Trends That Improve Plant Performance
Manufacturers need equipment to function in the best condition possible. By addressing equipment issues before they occur, you reduce the likelihood of unplanned downtime. Preventative and predictive maintenance are critical components for any manufacturing operation, but execution is key.
Preventative maintenance is maintenance that is regularly performed on a piece of equipment to lessen the likelihood of it failing. Whether it’s time-based maintenance or usage-based maintenance, these proactive efforts can prevent problems before they occur. In fact, preventative maintenance can reduce downtime by approximately 25% and extend equipment lifetime by 10%.
In addition, Computerized Maintenance Management Systems (CMMS) can work in tandem with preventative maintenance to centralize maintenance information, facilitate processes and automate some tasks to improve efficiency. All in all, you can’t have a well-run facility without preventative maintenance.
Predictive maintenance helps manufacturers get the most from each piece of equipment to maximize efficiency and increase asset reliability. Using this method, manufacturers monitor assets on the shop floor and utilize machine learning and the Internet of Things (IoT) to gather data. When they receive advance notice about a part that might need fixed, repairs can be done quickly to minimize downtime. Predictive maintenance can also leverage RFID technology to ensure maintenance work is in fact completed.
Manufacturers also leverage augmented Reality (AR) for remote maintenance and repairs. For example, AR was frequently used during the COVID-19 pandemic when in-person repairs became a safety concern.
Often, equipment can be serviced more efficiently by working virtually with an off-site technician. And in some cases, on-screen service guides offer even more robust support.
A recent Gartner study noted that 10% of field technicians were using AR in 2019. By 2025, 50% of field technicians will be using AR. Keep this technology in mind as you strive to identify problems quickly and keep production running.
Technology to Improve Tracking and Mobility
Mobility in manufacturing offers enhancements to all division, from the shop floor to a finished goods warehouse. The competitive benefits of mobile technology can drastically change the way manufacturing gets done.
Manufacturing plants move goods constantly—raw materials arrive and require storage, while finished goods are moved to a separate warehouse. In most scenarios, every step of this process needs to be tracked.
However, many organizations rely on outdated, manual processes to track inventory of machinery and materials—processes that are both inefficient and prone to human error. When coupled with outdated equipment, manufacturers often have additional issues to troubleshoot.
Asset tracking with RFID systems is increasing in popularity because of the ability to reduce costs, improve traceability, boost enterprise efficiency and more. By automatically collecting information about objects, you can identify, categorize and track valuable assets with little to no human interaction.
For example, Unitech's RFID solutions—from UHF and HF handheld readers to RFID tags, antennas, client middleware and more—allow users to manage ordering and inventory more precisely and streamline work process. Their portfolio of AIDC solutions make it easy to track parts on the assembly line and increase the efficiency of core manufacturing workflows.
RFID systems require careful planning, but many enterprises achieve strong enough ROI to justify continual expansions of these programs.
Mobility on the Shop Floor
Most manufacturers stay away from BYOD on the shop floor due to security, scalability and support issues. However, the latest enterprise devices are extremely rugged and well-suited for the manufacturing environment. Tablets that can handle the rigors of the warehouse and perform seamlessly on and off a forklift provide efficiency gains. Also, modifying existing processes with mobile devices results in better accuracy and speed throughout manufacturing operations.
Worker safety remains a top priority for enterprises as occupational accidents often reduce workplace productivity and cause indirect losses to machinery. The latest and greatest technology offers improved safety for forklift operators and for those working a line. For example, devices that offer operators the option to blank the screen while the forklift is in motion reduce distractions and improve focus.
Additionally, apps that require a user to log in prior to operation ensure the user has completed the required training. Plus, daily safety checklists support equipment monitoring and keep a record for auditing purposes.
WiFi Challenges, LTE and Keeping Data Secure
Manufacturing environments have many moving parts and workers are constantly navigating obstructions and obstacles that can impede WiFi performance. A reliable, full-proof network offers improved connectivity and efficiency benefits for manufacturers.
WiFi in Manufacturing Plants
Most employees use WiFi while moving, shelving or racking materials. Unfortunately, many companies haven’t carefully considered whether their WiFi is set up to meet their needs. Wireless site surveys help determine what’s best for the application, ensuring you have the right equipment with the right number of antennas.
Manufacturing plants are not the same as office buildings and bring a different set of considerations. When planning your network, it important to consider how you will connect multiple buildings, evaluate the ceiling height and understand interference from plant elements such as vehicle cages, ductwork and machines.
Private LTE In Manufacturing Plants
Some companies are evaluating if private LTE is an option to enhance WiFi and solve connectivity challenges. These privately-owned cellular networks are made of multiple components that can be configured to support an enterprise’s specific requirements. By leveraging the latest technology, companies won’t experience the reliability, speed and coverage problems of traditional Wi-Fi.
Both WiFi and LTE can be as secure as you make them but remember that devices bring an added layer of security. The right MDM partner can support device set-up and enrollment across your entire enterprise.
Advancing Technology Powers the Manufacturing Industry
Manufacturing plants are busy facilities that oversee raw materials, the creation of products and the movement of finished goods. The right technology can improve asset tracking, reduce equipment downtime, improve worker safety and more.
At TRG, we have established a track record of success with manufacturers of all sizes. If your organization is looking for support with enterprise mobility, contact TRG—we’ll be happy to talk through your goals and develop a solution to help you achieve them.