As consumers, we have become much more aware of the manufacturing supply chain. We are looking for reassurance that the products we buy are ethically and sustainably produced – from the clothes we wear to the cars we drive.
At the same time, we want our goods quickly and at the lowest possible price.
That presents a two-fold challenge for manufacturers today. They must focus on end-user customer satisfaction, but without ever losing sight of operational efficiency.
Answering this challenge was the hot topic at Fujitsu Forum 2018, which took place in Munich a few weeks ago. Over 10,000 people attended – including some of the biggest and most innovative names in the manufacturing and automotive industries.
As Head of Manufacturing and Automotive at Fujitsu, it was a fantastic opportunity to absorb so much industry insight. And now I’d like to share some of it with you.
In this blog post, I’m going to give you my key manufacturing take-aways from Forum 2018. Interestingly, they can be grouped under two key themes: operational efficiency and customer experience.
Adapt, or lose your competitive edge
During a Fujitsu Forum TV interview, I spoke about the fact that the sector is already one of the most automated and agile industries. Even so, I anticipate that a “second wave” of automation is on the way. This second wave will be reliant on capturing and utilizing data – consequently, data management will be critical to manufacturers’ future success.
I pointed out that many greenfield sites are already capturing data and using it to develop insights that help to improve operational efficiency and drive positive customer engagement.
Ingo Fenslau, Head of Automotive CE at Fujitsu, drew a similar comparison during another debate broadcast on Fujitsu Forum TV on the automotive sector when he talked about the relative success of Tesla compared to traditional manufacturers.
“Classic automotive OEMs have to fulfill today’s needs to maintain their business AND innovate for the future. It’s much easier for Tesla and other start-ups who can focus solely on new business.”
The message is clear: legacy plants must invest in new technologies to remain competitive.
Find new ways to make things more efficient
In the ‘Operational efficiency and customer engagement’ breakout session, which I hosted alongside Nerys Mutlow, Head of Consulting and Professional Service EMEIA at Fujitsu, we shared examples of manufacturers using predictive maintenance tools to boost operational capacity.
Predictive maintenance improves operations by preventing downtime. When you can anticipate when a part is going to fail, you can fix it before it becomes an issue – meaning you save your machines from a major incident so they can keep running for longer.
I gave the illustration of an automotive company in the Philippines that dips car chassis into protective paint. If the machinery breaks down, then the whole line stops. Factory workers knew from experience the sound that the machine would make before a breakdown, but there was no way of communicating this to accelerate the repair.
This is a classic illustration for our “sonic ear” proposition – machine learning-based audio recognition – to learn and predict the meaning of noises made by the machinery. This means repairs can be carried out well before the whole line stops working.
Nerys talked about the future possibility of using artificial intelligence (AI) for image recognition, which could identify defects that a human eye would miss. This could be used further down the supply chain on farms, to detect when insects are damaging crops or even when a plague of insects is set to arrive.
These kinds of insights will help farmers to determine when to harvest or spray crops, resulting in a better yield.
Of course, an investment in new technology can be significant. But a return on that investment can be rapid.
In the same Forum TV interview, Johan Carstens, Manufacturing and Automotive CTO EMEIA at Fujitsu, shared an example of a paper company who had connected the weather forecast to planning software.
Rain in the Amazon that causes flooding means that roads are closed, and logs cannot be transported, causing the paper price to go up. Now that heavy rain forecasts are fed directly into the business, it can plan according. The company achieved a positive ROI in days.
Sharing is the answer to driving customer engagement
Fujitsu is also exploring ways in which technology can be used to give consumers the right data to make an informed purchasing decision.
This will require a shift in mindset. Manufacturers will need to be shown the benefit of sharing their data with consumers – especially given as this is an industry that has traditionally been quite closed when it comes to revealing processes and production techniques.
Imagine if you could link a coffee cup to a smartphone, which then proves the coffee and the cup has been ethically and sustainably produced. Ethically-minded consumers – which is a growing proportion of the market – would find this hugely appealing.
It might even determine whether a consumer chooses your coffee shop over the one next door.
Implementing real change
Many of these technologies are available today, says Nerys. “If manufacturers want to embrace new technologies, then working with an expert partner can reduce the risk.”
We invite customers to visit one of our Digital Transformation Centres (DTCs) in Munich, New York or London. We bring our technology experts into the same room as the brightest minds from our customer organisation, and together we identify, define and solve the challenge in front of us.
It’s a completely collaborative exercise, and we encourage our customers to involve frontline workers as well as senior leaders in the process, since both have a unique perspective that will help create viable solutions.
This “co-creation” approach can help to overcome cultural barriers as well. People understand change better if they are involved in the process at the initial stages, which typically drives rates of adoption.
In fact, co-creation is so important to us that it was even the theme for this year’s Forum!
The challenge ahead
In the age of digital transformation, it’s nearly impossible to predict the future – for any industry. But, as we learnt at Forum, manufacturing faces two clear challenges.
Customers have different expectations, and manufacturers will have to learn how to meet them. This will involve a higher level of engagement than has ever been seen in the industry before.
And, on top of this, there is the ever-present difficulty of maximizing operational efficiency. New technologies, like predictive maintenance, are making it easier to get 100% out of your production line.
I can’t wait to see what the future holds for this industry. Manufacturers are making advances at such a rapid pace, things will have advanced again by the time Forum comes around next year!