Automation has been widely deployed by manufacturers for many years within factories to streamline and speed up operations, reduces error and ensure health and safety.
And with advancements in Artificial Intelligence, physical robots within smart factories will become ever more sophisticated, increasingly carrying out tasks that require intelligence in terms of sensing and vision. More importantly, their actions will be directed by AI incorporated into the systems that are directing production (through IoT devices) to create more efficient and sustainable supply chains.
Interestingly, just as there has been a significant shift in the role of factory workers away from production lines and fulfilling orders towards managing robots, within forward-thinking manufacturers we are now seeing a shift towards digital workers taking on the execution of core office processes. This allows human workers to move into roles that focus entirely on critical decision making and planning.
Indeed, whilst Robotic Process Automation (RPA) within manufacturing has traditionally been perceived as a tactical means to reduce cost and eliminate inefficient processes, it is now evolving into something far more strategic and meaningful. Intelligent Automation (IA), which combines RPA with Artificial Intelligence, is now enabling manufacturers to automate a far wider range of processes, in a fast, effective and secure way.
Linked to this, the AI capabilities included in Intelligent Automation platforms are opening up new possibilities to connect processes smoothly across functions and systems and bring together disparate data. This is eliminating errors and, importantly, enabling organizations to press ahead with their digital transformation programs.
We recently carried out research exploring future drivers for automation amongst manufacturers who have already deployed RPA technology within their operations.
The study, ‘Taking Automation to the Next Level’, highlighted how organizations are setting their sights on more strategic objectives as they scale up their automation programs. Only a fifth (20%) of manufacturers now cite cost reduction as the key driver for automation. Instead, 47% point to increased productivity and 13% to improved business outcomes as their primary goals.
We have reached a significant tipping point within manufacturing, where productivity is surpassing cost as the biggest driver for automation.
This is the moment at which automation will truly establish itself as a game-changing, strategic business technology with the potential to transform the way that any organization can run its entire operations, service its customers and expand its services. Indeed, we’re already seeing it happening in pockets across the industry.
Manufacturers can now use digital labor to free up their very best (and expensive) talent from mundane and repetitive tasks and allow their people to focus on high-value and innovation-driven initiatives. Indeed, 73% of automation leaders within manufacturing are now assessing the potential benefit of IA in terms of how it can provide employees with tools to experiment.
For leaders within manufacturing, Intelligent Automation is set to transform the art of the possible, providing the agility to respond to market disruption and adapt to regulatory change, and also to pursue new opportunities that would otherwise be impossible with a traditional approach to resourcing. Our research showed that more than half (52%) of organizations will look to create new or enhanced revenue streams as one of their three main targets for automation initiatives over the next five years.
Intelligent Automation will bring about huge changes within the manufacturing sector over the coming years. It’s vital, therefore, that business leaders re-set their ambitions around automation, and ensure they have the governance structures, skills and agile technology platforms in place to take full advantage.