Empowering makers in any economic weather

by Parth Joshi, Chief Product & Technology Officer, Hexagon’s Manufacturing Intelligence division

ERM Volume 2 hero image

Engineering Reality 2023 volume 2 edition

Empowering Makers for an autonomous sustainable future

Headshot of Parth Joshi, Chief Product & Technology Officer, Hexagon MI Hexagon is a global technology leader in digital reality solutions committed to putting data to work to empower an autonomous and sustainable future. Our technologies drive innovations across numerous industries around the world. However, when the economic forecast turns uncertain or even unfavourable, there can be a tendency to retrench among our customers, the world’s leading makers.

We work with organisations ranging from small job shops to the world’s largest OEMs. Every year, we support the development and manufacturing of 95% of cars, 90% of aircraft, and 75% of smartphones, along with enabling the manufacturing processes of many other industries. Very few of these can avoid the impact of a choppy economy. Their initial response may be to limit investments in the technology that can deliver on their manufacturing mission and goals.

This may seem comforting in the immediate present, but it limits makers’ ability to bring better products to market faster while mining the data gold of continuous improvement. This resembles a “glass half empty” approach to riding out the economic storm. Instead, makers can strengthen their manufacturing ecosystem by making a few key goals easier to achieve, with well-considered continued investment in core technologies.

The following universal goals for makers become even more critical in a challenging economy:

Increasing productivity – Overall productivity in manufacturing can increase by more than 30% by adopting digitalisation initiatives.

Managing costs to drive profitability – The cost of raw materials and labour keeps rising year over year, so companies need to ensure that their end-to-end processes are connected and optimised.

Sustainability – Beyond the environmental impact, businesses today must think about economic sustainability and opportunities, resource production and consumption, social responsibility, and risk reduction.

Breaking down silos – Manufacturing ecosystems are comprised of many entities, both internal and external. Data is the key to the digital thread across organisations and technologies that can bind all stakeholders together. Making data available to the right user at the right time makes the manufacturing lifecycle more agile and responsive to market changes. This helps address challenges during disruption, so business continuity is not impacted.

Still, digital tools must prove their worth for makers in all economic weather. Those solutions that don’t help them weather the storm, cut costs or boost efficiency and agility today are being scrutinised. Core current and new technologies that can prove their worth and that check the right boxes for expected benefits are worthy of reinvestment.

How do manufacturers decide which technologies best help them through a choppy business environment? When reviewing their current manufacturing ecosystems and the technology that drives them today, and in the future, makers should focus on the following questions:

Will it help us work more efficiently?
Will it boost productivity?
What is the return on investment (ROI)?
Will it help us mitigate risk?

When critical investment is being made in technology, it must be strategically implemented to be optimised for the most effective use. Best practices to accomplish this include:

  • Eliminate redundancies and consolidate systems. Consolidating systems can reduce IT costs and improve data consistency and visibility, improving the ROI of the IT infrastructure.
  • Ensure processes are comprehensive. It’s important to align business processes to best leverage digital tools enterprise-wide and ensure they’re consistent and realistic.
  • Integrate enterprise systems for greater operational effectiveness. Enterprise systems play a pivotal role in automating business functions and simplifying decision-making.
  • Leverage actionable data. Integrated solutions that deliver actionable data to the most relevant places in an organisation enable makers to perform and modify the critical functions needed to provide the best products to the proper markets at the perfect time.

So, what technologies will pay off for makers, regardless of economic weather?

  • Design and engineering solutions that improve product and prototyping efficiency, embed quality into the design, and ensure manufacturability downstream.
  • Production solutions that ensure design intent is maintained throughout the product lifecycle, improving productivity, and delivering high-quality components.
  • Metrology and inspection solutions which can capture real-world data for inspection and quality to improve efficiency, quality and productivity continuously.
  • Cloud-native systems that enable greater productivity and access from anywhere, with fewer IT resources.
  • AI and Machine Learning to boost productivity by helping companies identify product defects, monitor sites for safety incidents, predict the future by analysing historical data and automate routine tasks to do more with less staff.
  • Quality Management Systems which help companies ensure optimal product quality as they try to be leaner and more productive. An advanced QMS can serve as a single source of truth for quality across the organisation, providing a comprehensive view from product design, through supplier quality management to shop floor quality-control integration, logistics, distribution, and customer feedback.
  • Supplier management tools can limit the damage from supply chain disruption. Integrated solutions that enable suppliers and buyers to communicate, share information and anticipate supply and demand will continue to be essential to workers well into the future.

A recent CNBC Technology Executive Council survey showed that more than three-quarters of tech leaders expect their organisations to spend more on technology this year. Leaders surveyed said, “if they’ve learned anything from past downturns, it’s that technology is not a cost centre but rather a business driver.” Tech-savvy makers are no exception here.

Digital solutions can play a pivotal role in helping makers weather the economic downturn.

Yet, they require a strategic approach that makes efficiency, productivity, cost, and risk the deciding factors.

Is your process robust enough to withstand an economic storm?

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Engineering Reality magazine Volume XVI – issue 2

Accelerate Smart Manufacturing