The last 12 months presented new challenges and tremendous change across the manufacturing industry. The COVID-19 pandemic and associated disruptions shifted priorities among all enterprises, but most notably suppliers and manufacturers.
As a result, the digital transformation experienced by many suppliers shed light on key emerging technologies, practical solutions and new opportunities to operate more efficiently and effectively. These learnings will continue to drive the industry forward as companies are expected to continue adapting to ever-changing dynamics.
Three trends are likely to outlast the pandemic and dominate the landscape this year.
Last year, as manufacturers sought to re-start operations in a pandemic-impacted environment, many turned toward automation as a solution to ensure peak operating efficiency despite reduced staff working fewer shifts.
This year, we’ll see continued investment in technology solutions such as RAIN RFID that allow warehouses of the future to operate with both a reduced and hybrid workforce of virtual and in-person employees, while simultaneously increasing efficiency and enforcing social distancing.
RAIN RFID, a low-cost, battery-free wireless technology, enables meaningful increases in workflow productivity and efficiency, while providing a rich source of data that can drive process improvements, resource allocation, and overall system utilization. It significantly reduces human error by eliminating manual processes and allows for a company’s workforce to be deployed toward more meaningful and higher value-add activities with streamlined workflows.
Plexus, a global manufacturing and engineering services provider, saw a big impact on their manufacturing operations by automatically tracking small components used in their production lines. With their RAIN RFID solution, Plexus reduced the need for manual tasks and processes to help protect the health and safety of their workforce, and at the same time, increased productivity almost 3X.
By automating the tracking of each individual moving part or piece throughout each process with RAIN RFID, Plexus saw a 97% decrease in time spent searching for products, a 92% decrease in time needed for re-palletizing of high-mix, low-volume products and a 95% savings of time over manual scanning processes in their production lines. In addition, they saved 30% space in their warehouse and achieved 100% customer shipment accuracy.
Automating tasks such as parts tracking, shipping, receiving, and transferring of goods will continue to drive efficiencies and optimized production for manufacturers, making it a sound investment for companies in an ever-changing world.
Streamlined Tracking and Customization
Disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic greatly accelerated the need for more agile solutions that can accurately manage very complex globally distributed supply chains. IoT technologies like RAIN RFID are a key enabler of these agile solutions. This technology is extremely well-suited to drive the level of visibility and automation that companies require to track their products throughout their supply chain, and manage the complexities introduced by product customization.
Product customization often requires near real-time visibility into the status of an assembly line, as well as flexible manufacturing schedule management. Furthermore, real-time data tracking of each part’s location and step in the manufacturing process allows for inventory to be optimized and parts replenished on time, to prevent a lines-down situation due to parts shortages. By simplifying tracking and increasing visibility, manufacturers are more easily enabled to deliver customized products.
Take this success story from Volvo for example. Cars today are more customizable than ever before, making an already sophisticated process even more complicated. Volvo’s RFID system was originally built on multiple types of RFID tags and barcodes, making it costly to maintain and vulnerable to errors.
By switching to a simplified RAIN RFID solution, Volvo was able to enable asset tracking from the paint shop to the point of final assembly, collecting data along the way that allowed them to optimize operations and ensure the correct vehicle was undergoing the correct process at the right time.
Volvo can ensure accuracy with its RAIN RFID solution, guaranteeing that its cars are being made to the exact customer specifications and that custom features are correctly implemented.
These types of streamlined solutions will mean smarter decisions, enabling organizations to successfully manage their increasingly complex supply chains and deliver the customized products that their customers demand.
As companies accelerate digital transformation, we’ll see a rise in interconnected data as investments into new technologies and IoT surge.
And as the volume of real-time and accurate data about the movement of goods rises, so do the demands on operations teams to make sound business decisions quickly and with confidence, often using AI-powered systems that thrive on making better decisions with better data.
As an example, over the past several years, Delta Airlines has transformed customer experience by investing in technology including real-time RAIN RFID bag tracking and automatic check-in via the Fly Delta mobile app. Delta is now leveraging this set of investments in their implementation of an AI-driven platform that analyzes millions of operational data points, from luggage movement to aircraft positions to flight crew restrictions to airport conditions. This system simulates operating challenges and creates hypothetical scenarios that help Delta’s professionals make critical operational decisions that lessen customer impact.
In today’s AI-driven, rapid decision making environment, RAIN RFID is an IoT technology uniquely able to make systems more effective by providing item identifiers for tracking and locating trillions of items from clothing to food, pharmaceuticals, tools, packages, pallets, and more. RAIN RFID enables itemized data collection, connects that data with systems that manage inventory and supply chains, and dramatically improves the capabilities of organizations by ensuring they have the right items, in the right quantities, at the right locations, at the right time. RAIN RFID works without line-of-sight connections, providing visibility into places and processes not previously available. The data provided by a RAIN system can give AI-powered systems the ability to see individual items within the system — and understand how the entire system is functioning and which areas can be improved.
Being able to quickly analyze and act on the increasing volume of data will drive more value as well as predictive and nimble operations, making it mission-critical to success for manufacturers and suppliers in 2021.
The manufacturing industry was deeply impacted by the disruptions and changes caused by the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020. But in adapting to this new landscape, forward-thinking manufacturers accelerated the rate at which they invested in and adopted smarter technologies to automate and simplify previously complex processes — ultimately driving better outcomes and results. These trends will continue to positively impact and drive the industry forward in 2021 and beyond.
Sandy Murti is vice president global partner development at Impinj, a RAIN RFID provider.
Timely, incisive articles delivered directly to your inbox.