Managing complex supply chains with automation and innovation

Nov 22, 2022
  • operations
  • discrete manufacturing
  • SAP
  • artificial intelligence & RPA

If asked “what do you feel is the biggest threat to manufacturing organisations in 2022?”, you might suggest any of the following:

  • Pressures to reshore
  • Russia’s invasion of Ukraine
  • The COVID-19 pandemic
  • Brexit
  • The increased need for product customisations
  • More pressure than ever to get to market faster than the competition
  • The overall logistics challenge of global supply chains

The world has drastically changed for discrete manufacturing, and only now are many organisations realising that they haven’t driven sufficient innovation into their supply chains and are therefore struggling to respond to these challenges.

Rising pressure to do more with less, faster

It’s becoming very real for a lot of manufacturers, with rising prices for materials, labour and energy, it’s hitting boiling point. Organisations are under enormous pressure, to do more with less, and faster. But for many of these organisations, the answers lie within effectively managing control, visibility and agility.  In this second blog of a three-part series, we’re looking at how innovation is supporting manufacturers with increasingly global, disparate supply chains.

Why you need to address supply chain visibility

There is an increased expectation from customers to be able to meet demands quicker and more cost effectively. Visibility of where manufacturers are within the production process is a key driver and control for an organisation. Organisations that have a detailed overview of every step of the production process are doing so by enabling machine integration with business applications.  Without this integration, there is potential for reduced machine utilisation, less effective enterprise resource planning, reduced consistency in product quality and many business performance fundamentals.

Increased costs have resulted in a large number of manufacturing entities with growing dependencies throughout their supply chain. The result of this is relationships becoming less transparent, and systems being disparate. This has a knock-on effect for supply chain visibility, and when you throw subcontracting into the mix, finding out where a product is in the cycle and accessing accurate reporting becomes even more challenging.

Ultimately, what this results in is a lack of order status visibility. Though in many organisations this is accepted as a ‘black hole’, it causes problematic areas for customers and can make meeting delivery dates impossible. Integration between these disparate systems is the only way manufacturers are addressing supply chain visibility issues.

Managing control across product variations with automation

More than ever, product variations mixed with ever increasing complexities, are making sure organisations stay on their toes. From procurement to quality, control is the anchor of all processes. But to maintain control of complex production planning, you need a combination of flexibility and speed. One way to address this challenge is to drive automated processes in the production line that can be responsive to variable demand. 

Without this in place, managing control in product variation can throw up a number of challenges:

  • Security: with a large uptake of siloed legacy systems needing to talk to each other, breaches become more likely. There’s a desperate need for faster material requirements planning within one system where security is centrally managed
  • Mis-managed variation: Products and services have moved away from being standardised and new introductions much more frequent. There is a risk of overstocking the business to cope with demand for one variation, but then the requirements change shortly after – hence the need for both flexibility and speed

Automating functions bring more effective control in a number of core business processes. For example, by automating background jobs between planning and execution, you can drive greater visibility over production lines, ensuring that the right materials are available and the orders are correctly sequenced before coordinating the production floor. When working with highly variable product lines, the ability to auto-run availability checks, perform capacity levelling and auto print production orders ultimately helps you to maximise usage and be more efficient.

The right technology enables agile and responsive supply chain management

Change and uncertainty are inevitable in manufacturing. Whilst effective production planning can support, there will always be factors outside of your control. Changes in people resources, system configuration, supply chain itself and machine downtimes can have serious consequences. 

Though many manufacturers face these challenges every day, only a small number are realising the competitive advantage of automation and innovation. The right technology stack is critical in manufacturing to:

  • Enable responsive production planning and cope with variation 
  • Integrate systems and have visibility over the full supply chain - however disparate it may be
  • Reducing reliance on subcontracting and using resources more effectively.

How to address the challenge

There are many different approaches out there around aligning technology to address the challenges in front of us, drive value and enable strategic objectives. This can be distilled into a number of key areas:

  • An integrated Enterprise Solution: on premise or cloud based depending on organisational imperatives;
  • Aligned analytics and Data Governance solutions;
  • Industry based , best of breed solutions, where specialist capabilities are required;
  • The right Integration support across – Harness operational information in the most effective way and embrace innovation.

To put this in a more technology biased language, a way of labelling this is “the intelligent enterprise”. In short this means a technology stack that has been developed to align and enable the specifics of the business in question across 4 key areas: analytics, data management, business cloud platform, inteligent technologies.

 The diagram below illustrates this in a generic way:

Coping with change and uncertainty is more than manageable with the right foundations in place. To find out how your peers are innovating to improve visibility and control, watch this webinar replay on demand: Proven ways for manufacturers to accelerate technology ROI and drive value from innovation.

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