Managing Complex Supply Chains With Automation And Innovation

Richard Seel

Part 2 in the “UK Manufacturing” series, which explores how companies in this sector can harness technology to conquer adversity.

If you were asked, “what do you feel is the biggest threat to manufacturing organizations in 2019?” you might suggest any of the following:

  • Increased need for product customizations
  • More pressure than ever to get to market faster than the competition
  • The logistics challenge of global supply chains

The world has drastically changed for discrete manufacturing, and only now are many organizations realizing they haven’t driven sufficient innovation in their supply chain to respond to these challenges.

Organizations are under enormous pressure to do more with less – and faster. But for many of these organizations, the answers lie in effectively managing control, visibility, and agility. In this second blog of a three-part series (here’s blog #1), we’re looking at how innovation is supporting manufacturers with increasingly global, disparate supply chains.

Why you need to address supply chain visibility

There is an increased expectation from customers to be able to meet demands quicker and more cost-effectively. Visibility of where manufacturers are within the production process is a key driver and control for an organization. Organizations that have a detailed overview of every step of the production process are enabling machine integration with business applications. Without this integration, there is potential for reduced machine utilization, less effective enterprise resource planning, reduced consistency in product quality, and failures in many business performance fundamentals.

Increased costs have resulted in a number of manufacturing entities that have growing dependencies within their supply chain. The results are less transparent relationships and more disparate systems. This has a knock-on effect for supply chain visibility, and when you throw subcontracting into the mix, finding out where a product is in the cycle and accessing accurate reporting becomes even more challenging.

Ultimately, this results in poor order-status visibility. Although in many organizations this is accepted as a “black hole,” it causes problems for customers and can make meeting delivery dates impossible. Integration between these systems is the only way manufacturers are addressing supply chain visibility issues.

Managing control across product variations with automation

More than ever, product variations mixed with ever-increasing complexities are keeping organizations on their toes. From procurement to quality, control is the anchor of all processes. But to maintain control of complex production planning, you need a combination of flexibility and speed. One way to address this challenge is to drive automated processes in the production line that are responsive to variable demand.

Without this in place, managing control in product variation can create a number of challenges, including:

  • Security: Breaches become more likely with a large uptake of siloed legacy systems that need to talk to each other. There’s a need for faster material requirements planning within one system where security is centrally managed.
  • Mismanaged variation: Products and services have moved away from being standardized and are being introduced more frequently. There is a risk if the business overstocks to meet demand for one variation, yet the requirements change shortly after – hence the need for both flexibility and speed.

Automating functions brings more effective control in a number of core business processes. For example, by automating background jobs between planning and execution, you can drive greater visibility over production lines, ensuring that the right materials are available and the orders are correctly sequenced before coordinating the production floor. When working with highly variable product lines, the ability to autorun availability checks, perform capacity leveling, and auto-print production orders helps you maximize usage and be more efficient.

The right technology enables agile and responsive supply chain management

Change and uncertainty are inevitable in manufacturing. While effective production planning can support you, there will always be factors outside your control. Changes in people resources, system configurations, the supply chain itself, and machine downtime can have serious consequences.

Although many manufacturers face these challenges every day, only a small number are realizing the competitive advantage of automation and innovation. The right technology stack is critical in manufacturing to:

  1. Enable responsive production planning and cope with variation
  1. Integrate systems and have visibility over the full supply chain, however disparate it may be
  1. Reduce reliance on subcontracting and using resources more effectively

There are many different approaches out there for aligning technology to address the challenges in front of us, drive value, and enable strategic objectives. This can be distilled into a number of key areas:

  • An integrated enterprise solution – on-premises or cloud-based depending on organizational imperatives
  • Aligned analytics and data-governance solutions
  • Industry-based, best-of-breed solutions where specialist capabilities are required
  • The right integration support to harness operational information in the most effective way and embrace innovation

To put this in more technology-based language, we can label this “the intelligent enterprise.” In short, this means a technology stack that has been developed to align and enable the specifics of the business in question across four areas:

  • Analytics
  • Data management
  • Business cloud platform
  • Intelligent technologies

This diagram illustrates this concept:

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Coping with change and uncertainty is more than manageable with the right foundations in place. To find out how your peers are innovating to improve visibility and control, watch this webinar replay on demand.


Richard Seel

About Richard Seel

Richard Seel is experienced in shaping the business and large project environments for the delivery of best-in-class SAP global solutions. With over 26 years of experience with SAP software, Richard has been involved in the management, design, and implementation of supply chain solutions for large global manufacturing organizations and is now leading the delivery of FAST EWM solutions within delaware. With his SAP design and delivery experience and industry knowledge on the food and beverage, aerospace, and supply chain industries knowledge, Richard helping companies fully integrate solutions into the way they operate, ensuring that measurable and sustainable outcomes are delivered.