The manufacturing industry has been an early adopter of automation, especially in the areas that require precision and repetition (think assembly line efficiencies).
Best of breed and specialized hardware/software are commonly used to ramp-up production, drive down costs, and improve quality. LEAN manufacturing removes the waste between process steps; and kaizen, as introduced from Japan, means “change for better”.
Information and data flow are commonly impacted by system changes, updates, and additions. Heavy system and process integration is the hallmark of legacy manufacturing plants and facilities; however, these integrations can become fragile or even fractured as changes move through the facilities – either planned system changes or unplanned (covid-19) impacts make simple things difficult to maintain, much less expand and grow.
RPA (Robotic Process Automation) has matured over the past few years; and can provide the necessary bridge for business continuity - whether planned or unplanned information/process changes have occurred within your manufacturing business. RPA is the “action” just beyond the intent of the process. This concept applies to attended robots that work as a second set of hands for humans, or unattended robots that handle the mundane back-office or batch information processes to give humans back time to manage critical-thinking activities.
Challenging to manage change across 3rd party vendor systems with standard ‘legacy’ system integrations.
Disparate systems with limited integrations, multiple data formats, or multi-line geographies create roadblocks for managing parts, schedules and manpower.
Difficulty in synching multiple systems for material price changes and parts inventory can negatively impact speed, quality, and cost of production.
Employee and Safety data are critical to operations but live in many different places/systems that require many manhours of manual updates/synchronization.
Heavy integration already exists between internal manufacturing systems, but most of the real investment has been in ironing out the business rules rather than the actual technology cost. Changes in internal and external systems create a ripple effect of integration work that can be quickly mitigated with RPA, but still leverage the existing business rules and systems (EDI) that are in place.
Quickly capture vendor master data and update systems via basic forms and RPA without the heavy integration work typically required for new vendors. Ease the burden of onboarding new vendors/suppliers/carriers while quickly extending and divesting orders to available carriers by shortening the ramp-up and onboarding time.
This has become especially important as Covid-19 has impacted the supply chain in different ways. It is critical to business continuity that gaps are quickly identified and filled to ensure product deliverability with minimal cost/time impact.
The “critical” parts list and accurate inventories are at the core of manufacturing. Maintaining the Minimum Viable parts in the right quantity will incorporate inputs from many systems and disparate processes, with some of the knowledge not living in an enterprise system. Robots can be instituted to Monitor/Alert when quantities are either trending low or drop below a threshold. Additionally, robots can take proactive actions to move beyond just passive monitoring to actively create orders, verify planned deliveries, and assess cross-region inventories to assist with the material management and systemic planning processes. The robots can help automate “the last mile” of integration typically relegated to human intervention.
The Payment/Invoice processes of most industries still include a lot of human handle-time, and manufacturing is not exempt from this issue. Information is commonly passed in eMail channels, paper documents, and structured/unstructured electronic formats. Humans must extract pertinent information and move data between eMails, Spreadsheets, and ERP/CRM systems.
Today, Robots are enhanced with AI and document understanding that allows content to be “read” from semi-structured documents such as Purchase Orders and Invoices based on common contextual terms. This opens the door to take mundane workload away from humans that are needed for more critical tasks, and can be handled with a high degree of confidence via RPA. Multiple system updates, data entry, and business logic to determine if the information is valid are sample benefits Robots will provide.
Managing carrier master data, material packaging, pallet/product locations, warehouse planning, and changes across warehouses/regions can be automated even when involving 3rd party vendors and systems.
Combining information from scheduled maintenance systems, line performance, service tickets, and SCADA alarms can be correlated and aggregated from the disparate systems; regardless of integration capabilities, data formats, or geography.
Alleviate the challenges related to fragmented systems and managing material price changes, vendor performance tracking, critical parts inventory, and communication/synchronization of changes with Robots that can automatically identify and mitigate issues that would impact production capacity, risk quality, or create pricing errors.
Robots can aggregate data across disparate systems that each have pieces of employee information related to on/offboarding, training, safety incidents, attendance, and access privileges. RPA can remove manual entry, automate updates, and provide general data synchronization.
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