Our chief of marketing examines three opportunities for gaining a competitive advantage in your business.
The world of manufacturing is undergoing a massive transformation, and with that transformation comes the requisite number of innovative buzzwords: the Internet of Things (IoT), digitization, digital transformation, enterprise mobility, Industry 4.0, the Industrial Internet, smart factories, smart manufacturing, connected products, and more. While these terms define various ways that technology is changing manufacturing, they all share something in common – the impact of sensors and mobility on data, and the impact of that data on decision-making.
Let’s look at three combinations of mobility and data, and how they can be deployed to gain competitive advantages for your manufacturing company or industrial operations.
1. Mobilize Sizing, Selection, and Configuration
Manufacturers of B2B products create extensive product catalogues that give great details about specifications, costs, and performance parameters, all the way down to individual parts. The number of permutations and tradeoffs is staggering, creating an extraordinary amount of comparative analysis for buyers. You can imagine a buyer poring over multiple catalogues from different vendors, seeking to find the best fit for the job at the greatest value. Thankfully, advances in web development technologies have enabled manufacturers to digitize their product libraries in ways that expedite sizing (identifying the proper physical characteristics of products), selection (enabling comparison of performance and costs), and configuration (simulating how each part fits and operates within a larger subsystem).
Most manufacturers have digitized their product libraries and have implemented at least a degree of web-based sizing, selection, and configuration – and we have discovered that those that have mobilized this functionality are accruing benefits beyond expectations. The statistics and trends on the mobilized workforce demand that product information be provided where and when it is needed on any device. Just imagine a salesperson in a discussion with a client over lunch having the opportunity to make an impact at that moment!
By “mobilization,” however, I don’t just mean enabling the data to be accessed by mobile devices. I’m also talking about the way in which the information is presented and how the user interacts with it. OpenArc’s experience in developing mobile applications for industrial clients has revealed the hidden benefit of conducting user research and designing an elegant user interface (UI) that simplifies the engagement and provides a superior user experience (UX). Most browser-based industrial websites are crammed with a dizzying array of features, options, categories, and content, and we find that the user is typically overwhelmed, much like the consumer shopper experience in a megastore. In contrast, a professional mobile application developer will invest in understanding the user’s primary needs and their workflow, and design an experience that matches their requirements and environment. The result is a more intuitive, more streamlined engagement.
Finally, a mobilized sizing, selection, and configuration function enables caching of the data and app, leading to opportunities for customers to interact with your products even when there is not internet connectivity. Many operating environments around the globe may be in non-connected field environments where product information is needed to make decisions.
Opportunities for Competitive Advantage: Superior customer experience leading to greater traction, loyalty, and revenue; more frequent and more dynamic sales presentations; cost savings and productivity gains for your sales process as a result of expediting comparisons, prices, and configuration displays; increase in number of sales transactions from providing functionality to any location on any device.
Critical Success Factors: An engaging UI and professionally designed user workflow based on user research; integration with company’s business processes and IT platforms; minimized latency when interacting with company’s product libraries, inventory and fulfillment systems, customer records, and sales transaction systems.
2. Incorporate Mobility into Operations
The IoT movement has focused our minds on the power of leveraging sensor information for dynamic decision-making, and there are common operational challenges across various industries that are ripe for mobile solutions. A product could be failing QA tests and jeopardizing your production and shipping schedule. You may have shipped products to your customer and they are experiencing challenges installing your components in their system. Your sales and customer support professionals may lack clarity and sufficient documentation on a customer issue.
Mobile technologies have recently been created to specifically solve these problems. For example, OpenArc has developed an image-based application that enables field operators and shop floor managers to more efficiently address operational issues through blending visual, audio, text, and sensor information at the source and alerting SMEs in any location to dynamically collaborate on solutions. The application has image segmentation algorithms that isolate the problem and uses the photo as the basis of gathering and consolidating important information such as sensor data, analysis from stakeholder communities, and reference documents (i.e., product specifications or previous repair history).
Opportunities for Competitive Advantage: More expedient and effective solutions, resulting in lower non-productive time; greater responsiveness to customer concerns, increasing satisfaction and loyalty; improved intelligence in knowledge base, leading to better products and processes.
Critical Success Factors: Workflow integration, elegant UI, scalable and flexible mobile applications, privacy and security, reliable mobile technologies, rugged mobile devices.
3. Get Connected
The emergence of powerful low-cost sensors paired with wireless communication technologies are at the heart of the IoT revolution. Most of the publicized breakthroughs have been with connected products – the phenomenon of dynamically monitoring and reporting on the usage of products – and an area with vast potential is deploying that connected concept in manufacturing environments.
OpenArc recently created a platform for a client that can capture human or machine movement and provide instant feedback to the operator, offering corrective action or guiding them through a customized plan. The system provides feedback to the operator through a visual display on a mobile device, but depending on the environment, the feedback could also be audible, with voice-based prompts being transmitted via a hands-free headset.
The platform also includes inertial sensors that can track movement according to varying levels of precision, low-energy Bluetooth transmitters, a mobile device that gathers data and displays activity and compares it to a custom plan, an online dashboard for managers to conduct analytics and track trends, and mobile and web-based software applications that pull it all together.
Opportunities for Competitive Advantage: Greater throughput; less rework and waste; mass customization leading to increased revenues.
Critical Success Factors: Knowledge of sensors and their capacities; experience in building algorithms that translate sensor feedback to visual displays; ability to develop and program prescribed activities in a software application; systems and software engineering.
It’s exciting to see a new manufacturing landscape taking shape in real time, right before our eyes. While there is much promise for those who incorporate mobility and IoT into their operating strategies, many concepts may still seem to be too visionary or aspirational. In keeping with the OpenArc spirit of connection, creation, and innovation, I’m happy to highlight some practical opportunities where significant advantages can be accrued without a significant investment in time and money.