How Industry 4.0 is giving ERP a new lease of life

There’s no question that the UK manufacturing industry is moving at a rapid pace. Assembly lines are becoming smarter, R & D becoming more innovative, and operations becoming slicker. Manufacturing businesses are embracing new technologies and utilising everything from the Internet of Things, to smart devices, in order to build a competitive advantage and stay ahead during highly competitive times.

But while new technologies are coming thick and fast, there is one application that has been a vital tool in the manufacturer’s arsenal for the last 50 years. There’s one application that streamlines efficiencies across entire supply chains and there’s one application that is continuing to grow in order to keep up with, and seamlessly integrate with new, more recent technologies. That technology is the humble Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) system – a technology that has been around for decades, but which remains the next big thing in Industry 4.0.

Boosting factory efficiency

The smart factory of the future is one that is capable of delivering shorter product runs, manufacturing more complex products with more frequent material changes, resulting in quicker deliveries, different mixes of packaging and distribution, better change forecasting, supply chain management, and product traceability.

ERP has been helping businesses achieve all of this for many years. Yes, the stories of manufacturers saving time and money with ERP are everywhere – and they’re all true, but many of these document a single business process. Imagine the efficiencies that a business could achieve with seamless integration of planning, materials management and procurement, manufacturing, financial and business intelligence processes through one single system. ERP can deliver complete factory automation and unify multiple business processes, and disparate systems to better connect all facets of your supply chain. It can enable you to work smarter, faster, and spend more time focusing on product innovation and servitization, instead of operating manual tasks to try and plug the gaps left in your poorly automated supply chain processes.

Get a handle on those robots

Like it or not, the age of robotation is coming to UK manufacturing. Industry 4.0 is a period where manufacturing businesses are improving machine uptime, decreasing labour costs, consolidating factory space and saving on capital expenditure – robots facilitate all of these.

However, the introduction of robots to the factory floor means that a busy manufacturing manager now has yet another asset to manage. And what happens when one of them ultimately fails in a way that a human worker rarely does?

By linking robots to your ERP system, and integrating their data streams into your ERP data, you can better schedule robot maintenance and analyse their output to make them move orders forward more effectively. And by using ERP to adjust your product designs and held inventory, you can consistently change and modify your designs and materials to reap even more value from your robots.

Help your business leverage the Internet of Things

From product development to production control and after-sales, connected devices are providing manufacturing businesses with a higher level view of their supply chains and enabling them to make better informed decisions, more quickly. Add the Internet of Things into the mix, and the possibilities for a manufacturing business become endless.

Many manufacturing businesses are starting to fit sensors to their products to analyse their performance in terms of their effectiveness safety levels, durability and other critical values. By sending this information directly to your ERP solution, you can update Bills of Materials, adjust design specifications and adjust processes to continually improve your products through production. By leaving sensors on products post production, you can feed this information into ERP to track the lifecycle of a product and use this information to deliver a greater service to your customers by alerting them when a product may need maintenance, and to streamline or alter your production strategy for continuous product improvement. The use of sensors in manufacturing post production is nothing new, but ERP offers a way to route the masses of data collected by the sensors into your design and engineering processes to enable continuous improvement.

Greater productivity, improved efficiency and higher flexibility are the three traits of any competitive manufacturing business during Industry 4.0 and unsurprisingly, three benefits that ERP can deliver. The businesses that truly thrive during the fourth industrial revolution will be those that continue to use ERP as a mission critical supply chain tool, and continue to think up new and innovative purposes for their solution. After all, ERP has evolved throughout the last 50 years, just imagine where it will be in the next 50?

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