While the assembly line may be most well-known for changing the American manufacturing industry, the adoption of computers in industrial settings continues to revolutionize products we create and use today.
Seventy years ago, computers first emerged in manufacturing settings, kicking off the digital revolution that drives modern industrial processes. And, in recent years, manufacturers have become increasingly reliant on these technologies — everything from the controllers that run devices to the devices themselves.
The digitization of manufacturing settings brings about a number of benefits, such as process efficiencies and automation, while also introducing challenges, such as increased attack vectors for hackers and challenges finding skilled employees to manage, control, and secure these devices.
But the benefits show us the challenges are not deterring manufacturers from adopting new technologies. In fact, as we move deeper into the Fourth Industrial Revolution, we’re likely to see even more technological dependencies as machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI) become even more valuable for data-driven decision-making in industries.
So if your business wants to better manage and streamline data and other important processes shared throughout your digitized manufacturing operations, where do you turn? An enterprise resource planning (ERP) solution may be just what you need.
First, What is Industry 4.0?
Industry 4.0 is a common term used to describe the Fourth Industrial Revolution, which is ongoing now. It encapsulates both the use of automation and increased digitization for modern industrial settings.
Let’s take a look at the historical timeline for the Industrial Revolution leading up to today:
First Industrial Revolution
- Late-1700s through the mid-1800s
- Introduction of new manufacturing processes, evolving from primarily people-based processes to processes driven by machines, thereby increasing capacity, efficiency and in many cases, speeding up processes and manufacturing as a whole
Second Industrial Revolution
- Mid-1800s through the early 1900s
- More advanced mechanical process expansion, often fueled by the use of electric power
- Highlights include evolution of telephone, water and sewage systems, rail lines, electric lines, and production lines, like for automobile production
Third Industrial Revolution
- Began in the 1950s
- Dominated by the addition of computers into manufacturing
- Also known as Industry 3.0, the digital revolution
Fourth Industrial Revolution
- Modern era
- The emergence and increased adoption and usage of IoT (Internet of Things) and IIOT (Industrial Internet of Things) devices
- More industry reliance on machine learning and artificial intelligence, as well as more movement into cloud computing
Now let’s take a look at what Industry 4.0 with ERP support looks like in modern industrial settings.
Many manufacturing operations have successfully implemented technologies such as computer-aided design (CAD) and computer-aided manufacturing (CAM). This software helps companies design prototypes and products and produce them. CAD/CAM are often supported by product lifecycle management (PLM) software, which helps guide product development. Data from CAD/CAM and PLM technologies can then be shared within other parts of your business, to help make better business decision decisions and better serve customers. This is a great place for ERP software to step in.
Enterprise resource planning (ERP) software integrates your existing business processes and systems into a single solution to facilitate exchange of data and break down the silos that often slow operational efficiencies.
An ERP solution can facilitate data sharing from one system to another, thereby decreasing the need to manually input (or import and export) information from one part of your business to another. It helps increase efficiencies by removing manual, duplicated processes and also decreases the chance for errors that commonly occur during these manual (and often tedious) tasks.
In a modern manufacturing setting, an ERP integration it might look like this:
Let’s say you use a CAD/CAM system to design a product. The CAD/CAM product design is a part of your PLM. You know all the processes you must successfully go through to manufacture your product.
To manufacture your product, you need a variety of supplies from a third-party vendor. Your ERP can keep track of which supplies you need at which step of your manufacturing process, track your inventory, and even generate purchase orders when your supplies are low.
But your ERP can go even further. Once your product is designed, your ERP can also track your product inventory. That way you always know how much you have in stock and where that stock is stored, even if it’s in multiple locations around the globe. When you’re running low, you can use your ERP to set reminders to facilitate your production processes from start to finish so you never run out.
Imagine how great it would be to get supplies quickly approved, reordered, paid for, and tracked, without someone in the warehouse having to make a note of what’s needed and shuffle that through multiple departments within your company, while supply volume decreases as it takes time to check all the boxes and get all the approvals needed to re-order. You can let your ERP automate most of those tasks, speeding up processes and improving your overall customer service.
Now let’s go deeper. Not only can an ERP manage your product and supply inventories, it can even help you manage sales and orders for those products you’re creating. That’s right. A quality ERP will give you insight into everything from pending sales to product orders, billing, payments, and even shipping and receiving.
In a modern Industry 4.0 setting, you can add a layer of intelligence to handling and deciphering all of this shared data with machine-learning and AI algorithms that help you get a better handle on important things like how often you need to reorder products or setting a manufacturing schedule.
Another great thing about adding an ERP solution into your digitized manufacturing processes is you can tailor your ERP solution to meet your company’s specific needs. That can be everything from which components you use to the types of alerts and updates sent, to the number of users and their accessibility levels.
And, if you use a cloud-based ERP solution, you can even share this data with decision-makers not in your specific location so that valuable information is always available for data-driven decisions.
Want to learn more about what an ERP solution can do for your manufacturing business? Register today to save your seat in one of our upcoming webinars to see aACE in action!
"It’s a very dynamic order management process that we have to deal with, and because of the way aACE is built we've been able to achieve additional functionality by connecting our custom production-side software to the orders and the line items. The communication between aACE and that production system has been flawless." - Matthew Pelfrey, Director of Process and Compliance, Duggal Visual Solutions