Apr 14, 2019

How to Prepare for Supply Chain Automation & Stay Competitive


Market forces and technological advancements continue to accelerate the already unprecedented levels of information and product exchange around the world. Customers drive this whirlwind of demand and manufacturers use innovative supply chain strategies to delivery an ever increasing variety of desired goods, more quickly than ever before.

While some fluctuations in customer demand, due to factors like seasonality, can be predicted and accounted for, others due to unforeseen events, such as natural disasters or geo-political events, cannot. For example, the top three events that impacted supply chains between 2013 to 2018 were intermittent cyber attacks, the West Coast port shutdown in 2015, and Hurricane Harvey in 2017.

Many manufacturers were unable to react quickly to these events and suffered from reduced visibility, responsiveness, and reliability, which significantly impacted companies' competitive positions. In order to react quickly to unforeseen events, processes need to be automated and business units need to be connected.

The integration of all the supply chain elements with supply chain automation allows for rapid and effective responses to changes in market factors. Supply chain automation makes manufacturers agile and allows them to stay competitive, despite demand or even supply-side pressures.

Supply Chain Automation and Industry 4.0

The technological revolution that is driving today's effective supply chain automation solutions is Industry 4.0. The technologies emerging from Industry 4.0 enable a framework to effectively address and mitigate supply chain interruptions.

The natural disasters of 2016 are a fantastic example of this: severe weather impacted global supply chains during that year. The process of remedying the interruption was costly and clumsy. Had supply chain automation been more widespread, solutions would have been agile and flexible, which would have led to a faster reinstatement of normalcy. For example, global supply chains would have been able to shut down or redirect at the first sign of severe weather, rather than waiting for manual initiation.

The Third Industrial Revolution, Industry 3.0 focused on automating the factory and helping to improve production efficiency. The Fourth Industrial Revolution, Industry 4.0, builds upon the automated factory and takes automation to an entirely new scale by automating the entire supply chain. For this reason, before a manufacturer can implement integrated Industry 4.0 solutions, Industry 3.0 fundamentals must first be in place throughout the organization.

For example, organizations that want to unlock automated planning and scheduling throughout the supply chain must first ensure that their individual factory operations are integrated with Advanced Planning and Scheduling (APS) functionality.

5 Steps to Prepare for Supply Chain Automation

If you're one of the many manufacturers who want to implement supply chain automation, the first step is to prepare your organization accordingly. Here are some intelligent tips to get you started:

1. Identify Automation Opportunities

Automation opportunities abound in the world of manufacturing. Analyzing and evaluating where these opportunities present themselves is one of the first steps on the road to supply chain automation.

A simple workflow analysis will enable you to review your daily operations and identify obsolete practices that provide an area for improvement. This step also allows you to streamline your manual operations and take the first steps to improve operational efficiency. Furthermore, it will show you where automation is possible and appropriate.

Once you've mapped out your current flow of operations, the next step is to identify inefficiencies, keeping the need for automation in mind throughout. Pay close attention to areas where bottlenecks form, or you're duplicating processes, as these are likely an excellent opportunity for automation.

2. Map Opportunities to Process

Once you've established a workflow analysis and identified your business processes and priorities, it's easy to take it a step further and identify automation opportunities.

For example, one opportunity to implement automation in a way that both integrates and improves several of these business processes lies in supply chain detailed scheduling.

Currently, many large organizations have teams of production planners and schedulers that handle this function manually. They use tools like Microsoft Excel, basic planning & scheduling capabilities in Manufacturing Execution Systems (MES), or Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) systems, to help them. Unfortunately, such tools not only lack the power to handle all of the variables inherent in high-mix, high-volume production, but also do not offer streamlined integration into the supply chain ecosystem.

A lights out smart factory, the ultimate automation solution, requires a robust automated scheduling solution that integrates with the rest of the supply chain ecosystem. This scheduling system serves as “the brain” of the operational environments within the supply chain, telling the execution systems what to build, when to build, and where to build it.

Implementing a robust automated scheduling solution is essential for transforming manufacturing processes and unlocking future Industry 4.0 automation opportunities. Fortunately, it is also extremely simple. Companies, like Optessa, offer powerful automated scheduling software that easily integrates into existing production ecosystems. Optessa offers organizations the ability to rapidly implement automation functionality that immediately improves scheduling efficiency and builds confidence in automation solutions.

3. Make a Plan

Once you've completed steps 1 and 2, it's time to move onto the process of creating a comprehensive plan that reflects where you will add automation, and where the new procedures will fit to produce the desired improvements.

Keep in mind that it is essential to seek to automate processes that will create the most positive impact on your resources and your costs. It's also critical to focus on cross-department engagement as a part of the plan. This allows you to put a structure in place that will ensure disparate teams are all involved and onboard.

4. Evaluate Your Processes

To implement supply chain automation successfully, you'll need to develop an evaluation strategy that takes an implementation strategy into account, as well. This involves identifying benchmarks for each area of implementation and automation, and defining clearly what “success” will look like.

Depending on your company and goals, you may choose to focus on material costs or overheads, employee productivity, operating costs, and more. Selecting scheduling software, for example, will help save time and generate higher-quality schedules, which serve to create the required time for continued process improvements.

Finally, you'll want to locate a good automation partner to help you determine the productivity level of your resources. Bear in mind that you'll get the most use from a partner who has the capabilities, expertise, experience, and resources to support you adequately.

5. Make the Most of Software

Software systems are key parts of the automated supply chain. In today's increasing digital manufacturing environment these software systems need to integrate and work together to achieve effective automation.

The increasing number of attributes that need to be accounted for in a streamlined supply chain necessitate software systems of increasing sophistication. In many cases, rather than rebuild an existing system, or find a complete replacement, it is possible to augment a system with a modular enhancement that adds required functionality.

Optessa offers intelligent tools that augment legacy systems and can provide the foundation for ongoing supply chain automation and streamline the process of adopting it in the future. A critical part of the Industry 4.0 landscape, advanced planning and scheduling software are accessible tools that will go a long way toward supply chain automation.

The Case for Supply Chain Automation Solutions

In recent years, we've seen how warehouses can utilize flexible automation to create a more streamlined fulfillment process. Through technologies like collaborative robots, high-resolution cameras, sensors, AI and other self-learning capabilities, warehouses have managed to make it easier for workers to do things like pick, pack, and sort orders.

When we look forward to the future of manufacturing, automation is everywhere throughout the supply chain and will separate successful businesses of the future from unsuccessful ones. Automation stands to permeate the production and distribution channels of the coming years and alter the face of manufacturing as we know it forever.

Are you ready to implement supply chain automation in your manufacturing company? Start by adopting smart planning and scheduling software from Optessa. Contact us for a live demo today.

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