zebra logo

The Visible Value Blog

3 trends to look out for in manufacturing in 2016

Posted by David Stain

March 4, 2016 at 10:00 AM

31329-FB-Three-trends-V1.jpg

If you’re a manufacturer, you’ll be all too aware that you’re in the innovation business: success relies on constantly squeezing more time out of processes, reducing costs and getting more things made faster.

As manufacturers continue this quest in 2016, my first trend to watch out for won’t surprise you: it’s that the Internet of Things (IoT) will get bigger. 

IoT gets bigger

We’re all aware of the IoT, whereby smart sensors embedded in things give those things a digital voice. That digital voice, connected over the internet, can provide a constant stream of data. IoT has a wide range of applications in manufacturing. These include:

  • Enabling machine-to-machine communication
  • Feeding a live stream of cell data to industrial control systems
  • And tracking the progress of every component, in, through and out of the plant

Some plants that I’ve visited have thousands of sensors that create a ‘smart environment’. The data collected from these sensors allows teams to see everything, everywhere, across the plant, in real time. This provides the intelligence to find new ways to work smarter and optimise performance. Throughout this year I expect investment in IoT projects to gather pace.

By eliminating information gaps and helping to drive efficiencies, IoT will also have a role to play in my 2 other trends to look out for in 2016: built to order production and the move to the on-demand supply chain.

The built to order economy

All of us are connected these days; we’re used to buying and tracking goods online and we want delivery times to be as fast as possible. To respond, manufacturers are moving towards ‘built to order’ and giving customers transparency of build status. In many ways this is the ultimate manufacturing model. But it demands ultra-refined processes, intricate planning and complete visibility over – and integration of – the order, supply, production and delivery chains. Car manufacturers are making great progress here, allowing buyers to configure models online from millions of options, place their order and track the build and delivery of their new car.

Information visibility is key to achieving a built to order model and to keep customers satisfied – visibility that IoT promises to help deliver.

The on-demand supply chain

Whatever is happening in manufacturing, there will always be a demand to cut costs. And one way to do this is to reduce real estate – especially storage. Kanban and eKanban have helped reduce storage requirements. But if we think that as much slack and cost as possible has been taken out of the supply chain we need to think again – tier one manufacturers increasingly expect their suppliers to deliver to the line to hit their sequences.

In my second blog of this 2-part series I’ll look at how manufacturers take advantage of IoT to achieve the visibility and agility that’s necessary to build to order and achieve the on-demand supply chain.

Topics: Supply Chain, Manufacturing, Internet of Things, EMEA