In manufacturing, speed and efficiency can make or break a business's profit margin.
Manufacturing companies looking to expand their offerings, develop their internal processes, integrate with new and existing customers, or get more products to market as quickly as possible rely increasingly on an underlying infrastructure of technological connections to do so. Without these, very few meaningful improvements would be worth the risk they represent to implement.
Unfortunately, integrating with customers, though necessary, introduces a host of additional risk to manufacturing companies that must be carefully mitigated from the start. This is where intentionally scalable integration infrastructure planning comes into play.
The primary goal underlying integration efforts should be near real-time synchronization of data between companies and systems. This type of data exchange setup streamlines business by avoiding duplicate entries, keeps data in sync with internal systems, and ensures important updates on order processing and product status are consistently transparent between both parties. Here’s what manufacturing companies need to consider as they aim for this target:
The Unique Needs of Manufacturing Companies
For manufacturing companies in particular, there are a number of critical reasons to implement a scalable integrations infrastructure as soon as possible. Read on to learn about a few of them:
In contrast with general business concerns, such as growth and data integrity, most manufacturing companies have a strong need for control over the details of their daily output and operations. This need can temporarily be met with loosely joined integrations, but can quickly become unwieldy when volume balloons and additional clients begin to make requests.
For manufacturers who create products for other businesses, there is a clear need for an integration infrastructure capable of neatly pairing with external ERPs (enterprise resource planning systems), as well as other enterprise-grade tools to streamline order processing, data sharing, and more between client and manufacturer endpoints.
Such a system must be capable of maintaining security between both parties without impeding the flow of information, as well as coordinating internal processes with wider business needs.
When IT integrations including ERPs, MESs (manufacturing execution systems) or PLMs (product lifecycle management solutions) are brought into the picture, they need to be interconnected to function as intended. Data must be shared where appropriate, and specific processes need to be triggered by the completion of others without damaging data integrity or generating erroneous triggers.
Needless to say, connection points between these integrations can quickly become complex. Layering additional tools onto the pile adds to this complexity in all the wrong ways when scalable infrastructure is not built into the system’s foundation from the start.
Speed and Flexibility
Time is money in manufacturing, and time spent on anything other than production tends to be time wasted. Faster processing times often imply stiffer, less alterable production strategies. Error-prone integrated infrastructures that buckle under the weight of necessary additions pose a constant threat to tightly controlled production processes.
Similarly, when clients wish to cancel or otherwise alter orders with manufacturers, time elapsed between the moments such updates are received and the physical halting of production can spell out elevated costs for both parties.
Just as process drift can creep into your production lines, IT issues bubbling up through a mess of interconnected integrations can also bring about troublesome complications on the factory floor. In the same way that using a scalable infrastructure improves speed and flexibility, it also helps in other business processes, such as quality control, where it makes any errors that do occur easier to find and flush out.
Scalable Integrations Infrastructure for the Factory Floor
As more and more manufacturers invest heavily in IT infrastructure to back their operations, the depth and breadth of the insights such integrations provide - as well as the speed with which they can be obtained - prove the potential of such technology to positively impact the industry at every level.
Although devising an implementation plan for the technological systems backing your manufacturing business may seem like a daunting task, the process can be summed up in roughly four main steps:
Step #1: Map out goals and potentialities in individual functions
Each integration you rely on as part of your IT infrastructure carries with it a primary goal or function. Determining what these are and aligning your system accordingly makes the next two steps much simpler.
Step #2: Map out goals between functions
Once individual integrations have been classified by function and matched to your business's existing goals, they should be mapped out in terms of their interconnected purposes.
For example, if your ERP's procurement management tools need to be linked to your PLM's product and portfolio management implements, then this should be accounted for clearly in your assessment.
Step #3: Implement and optimize necessary integrations
This step should go without saying, but it still requires the attention of a competent team to ensure its successful completion.
For B2B manufacturers looking to integrate smoothly with individual clients, a strict and thorough testing protocol should be devised to ensure security standards are met. Active collaboration with your clients' IT departments in establishing functional links between endpoints is an ideal course of action in such cases.
Step #4: Plan for the unknown
No matter how much effort you put into Steps 1-3, you can’t account for every possible need or requirement you could face in the future. “Planning for the unknown,” in this instance, means building an infrastructure that can easily scale to incorporate new and changing integrations without taxing resources or interfering with production.
Ultimately, manufacturing companies benefit most from their IT integrations when they are properly connected and stable enough to support future additions without production-halting errors cropping up.
If you can’t honestly make this assessment of your manufacturing company’s existing IT infrastructure, reach out to Simpat for help transitioning to a more scalable solution.