The manufacturing industry is gaining momentum rapidly, and industrial production and utilization in the US surpassed the pre-pandemic level. But the labor shortages and supply chain challenges remain the top manufacturing challenges threatening the momentum. The major shift in customer demands, challenging planning systems, and operational cost optimization remain challenges for many manufacturing organizations.
Before the pandemic, adopting digital technologies was not crucial for manufacturers. Only a few were looking at Industry 4.0 to transform their businesses into customer-centric models. Research from WNS revealed that 90% of the companies that did not accelerate digital technologies adoption during Covid-19 lost their business opportunities.
The Future of Manufacturing
As manufacturers face concerns about staying agile, resilient, and adaptable, the focus is now on areas that can improve manufacturing operations with data, analytics, automation, and intelligent business applications. Let us look at a few trends shaping the manufacturing industry shortly.
- Smart factories – Though manufacturers are early adopters of automation, they still face concerns about developing foresight and sentience. Manufacturers will utilize data to predict demand, quality, maintenance, and equipment issues. The process improvement issues may also be more intelligent and offer clear hindsight about the future.
- Decentralized manufacturing – How do manufacturers manage disruptions and stay agile? Most organizations now look at pivoting their strategic plans frequently, notably technology. Manufacturers are also looking to micro-factories to operate their production closer to the demand and to respond seamlessly to changing market conditions.
- Purposeful production – Manufacturers now face concerns about visibility into the existing production systems. Though they have data everywhere, manufacturers still face challenges in establishing a single source of truth. Organizations continue to focus on their data engineering practices gaining more insights into their production.
- Experience hub – Traditionally, the manufacturer’s focus on customer feedback was minimal. But with the rapid innovations happening everywhere, customer-centric products and innovation are finally the most important concern for manufacturers.
Top Manufacturing Challenges
One of the top manufacturing challenges currently hampering the business prospects is the lack of skilled workers and strategies to improve employee satisfaction. Despite higher unemployment, it is 36% more challenging for manufacturers to find the right talent. As per a Deloitte report, 22% of manufacturing workers will retire in the next ten years. If the gap continues, manufacturers may have around two million vacant positions left unfilled by 2030.
To overcome the talent shortage, manufacturers can leverage a few technology options to transfer skills and improve employee satisfaction and engagement.
- Internal HR applications like communication, helpdesk, and employee support need transformation with simple, intelligent business applications. Manufacturers can leverage Power Apps portals to create these apps in simple steps without detailed technical knowledge.
- Traditional upskilling and retaining programs need a tech infusion creating ease of access, communication, and collaboration for all the employees. Chatbots offer an excellent solution to answer queries and maintain the knowledge base about the training needed. Employees can easily access past knowledge resources at any time without any hassles.
- Apart from retaining the employees and improving satisfaction, manufacturers need to consider automated processes, workflows, and real-time guidance wherever required to ensure smooth collaboration.
Sales and Marketing
Manufacturers are evolving slowly to sell to consumers with the e-commerce platforms directly. As they improve their interactions and learn from the customer feedback, it is also important to personalize the sales and marketing efforts and automate a few conversations to enhance customer experience.
- Though manufacturers utilize their CRM data efficiently to communicate with customers, they still need to leverage the data in silos within the CRM to personalize the conversations. Conversational AI helps manufacturers to enhance their interactions and customer experience.
- Chatbots seem omnipresent in many business processes; e-mail marketing is no exception. By leveraging Chatbots, manufacturers can run automated campaigns more efficiently at any time without human intervention.
- Customer feedback and behavioral predictions are now key for manufacturers to predict the demand or improve revenue. Without much hassle, manufacturers can incorporate feedback options through virtual customer conversations with chatbots.
Supply Chain Visibility
Sustainable supply chains are most important to manufacturers for faster access to the market and cost optimization. Though many tech options are available for improving supply chain visibility, it remain among the top manufacturing challenges to track the right information at the right time for enhanced decision-making. Part of this can relate to data engineering challenges, but the latest digital technologies resolve it better.
- The supply chain always looks complicated, from logistics, inventory, production, and transportation data in a single interface. There is a high chance for a human to err with this data. Simple tech solutions like chatbots can retrieve the required data in seconds and with better accuracy. Businesses have many conversations, from raw materials to the final products. All these conversations can be linked to a single entity like SKU. Further, by leveraging Conversational AI, manufacturers can retrieve and answer any questions related to the product through the supply chain.
- Chatbots can act as your virtual assistant to improve warehouse operations. For example, chatbots can help your employees navigate product locations and check stock with more reliable information. Manufacturers can scale the use cases to limit less boundaries once they visualize the potential.
Processes and workflows still seem complex in manufacturing. Though organizations adopted automation earlier than other industries, it was limited to handling production tasks. Simplifying internal applications and handling many manual documents always pose a risk for communication and efficiency.
- Manufacturers hold different documents – invoices, supplier agreements, vendor agreements, customer agreements, and equipment contracts in manual format. Retrieving necessary information when needed from these documents is always a cumbersome task. An AI-powered document intelligence solution can help manufacturers extract the required entities and enable search for these documents. It improves efficiency but also reduces the cost by around 50-70%.
- To deal with multiple suppliers, manufacturers must have an entire history and every interaction handy for seamless communication. An error about any payment leads to huge losses and creates a gap in supplier relations. A chatbot with all the conversation history will enhance interactions and supplier relations. It is not limited to supplier relations, but manufacturers can leverage Conversational AI for any internal process with loads of information and conversations.
- Furthermore, manufacturers need to enhance their internal applications to integrate with communication tools like Teams and Dynamics CRM to improve communications and collaboration among all the stakeholders.
Do you have any specific challenges? Our experts will help you visualize the potential of digital tools with a pilot. Though we listed a few challenges related to the tech stack, chatbots, knowledge mining, and intelligent automation have immense potential for manufacturing processes.