Development strides in Artificial Intelligence, the continuous drop in the cost of cloud storage, ample availability of data and access to engineering talent is making digital labor the new engine of smart manufacturing.
The Fourth Industrial Revolution powered by Digital Transformation brings to manufacturers a treasure trove of benefits including cost efficiencies, quality improvements, agile process execution and most importantly, better user of manual resources.
At the core of this Digital Transformation in manufacturing is Robotic Process Automation (RPA). RPA is the use of software tools that can be easily configured to perform routine tasks. They help in automating manual tasks while increasing pace of delivery as well as reducing errors. A premier business consulting agency even found that implementing Robotic Process Automation could bring in up to €750,000 in annual cost savings (Source).
Large-scale manufacturers are racing to adopt automation to improve their production efficiency by reducing manual errors. The cost-savings that accompany are also a big draw to this race to automation.
At least 87% of manual and routine jobs performed by laborers in a manufacturing utility are automatable, says McKinsey. Rules-based clerical jobs involved in manufacturing like preparing bill of materials, order management, work order status updates, etc. can be carried out by intelligent systems with an efficiency that rivals human abilities. Technologies like Robotic Process Automation (RPA) can pull human laborers out of dull, strenuous and often mundane tasks by putting robots in their place.
Robotic Process Automation – The Digital Catalyst for Manufacturing
Long-term cost savings
The cost benefits of leveraging RPA for manufacturing would arrive only in the long-term. The RoI in the initial years may not be positive due to the one-time costs involved in setting up and putting the system to work. However, in the long run, the system would save businesses a large chunk of funds otherwise required for manual labor costs, their maintenance and upkeep, insurance and healthcare, administration and much more. Also, the manufacturing facility would be able to work round the clock without interruptions since software does not need a break or have working hour restrictions.
RPAs are made up of software components. RPAs are often lightweight in nature making them easy to setup and deploy without calling for extensive IT resources. Even business-operations executives with little system knowledge would be able to learn the processing of setting them up quickly. As a result, the manufacturing process would become agile and responsive to dynamically changing market scenarios.
Extendable manufacturing capabilities
A single chatbot can handle dozens of queries in a fraction of a time that otherwise would need three to four individual workers. Also, their machine memory and fast processors ensure that the information provided is accurate with zero possibility of errors. This makes RPA a versatile system that can be scaled and extended for several manufacturing capabilities.
High-end RPAs enabled with optical sensors and algorithms can read text as well as synthesize visuals of materials. They can integrate the real-time information collected into the manufacturing workflow enabling human workers to take spontaneous actions. This helps to accelerate the production timeline.
As much as RPAs can be deployed for manufacturing utilities, they can also be deployed for several other routine and rules-based activities. To cite an example, an RPA system can be programmed to sift through hundreds of inventory requisition notes and classify them on a departmental basis. The systems can also be additionally integrated to the backend of an inventory management system or an ERP to fetch real-time inventory levels. Based on the availability of inventory, the immediate production plan can be executed or fresh stock ordered for. The highlight is that an RPA can do all these activities simultaneously and faster than humans.
RPAs can build momentum for a manufacturing process by combining machine memory and human intelligence. By collecting data from equipment sensors and disseminating them for real-time insights, they can provide decision-makers with digital intelligence. Such digital intelligence would empower the decision-makers to steer the manufacturing assembly lines in an optimal fashion.
The end result would be better inventory management, minimal wastage and a healthy bottomline. Toyota, the automaker which follows the minimalist Kaizen way of manufacturing was able to augment its manufacturing efficiency by integrating RPAs into manual processes.
- Reduces errors and wastage
One of the challenges that every manufacturer faces is to keep errors and inventory wastage under control. Most often, to ensure that produced units are of top-notch quality and comply with quality standards, a dedicated quality assurance team is engaged. This adds a layer of cost to the entire manufacturing operation. Also, manual labor is prone to inconsistencies. As a result, there is inventory wastage, which often ends up as irretrievable sunk costs.
Robotic Process Automation in manufacturing can dispel both these critical challenges in one shot. The programmed and rules-based functioning of RPA systems ensures that errors are reduced to a bare minimum, or at least they are negligible. As a result, wastage rates also decline significantly.
The Final Takeaway
Robotic Process Automation will help manufacturers replace their inefficient and error-prone manual processes with super-efficient and cost-effective digital systems. They can help quicken the pace at which routine tasks, including paperwork, is done, thereby helping the manufacturing facility improve what it does. RPA will lead to better man-machine collaboration, thereby pulling out humans from mundane tasks. Their time and talent can be spent for better purposes that require human intelligence and involvement.