Canadian Manufacturing

Go digital or go home: Managing information in 21st century manufacturing

Keeping your company's multiple branches on the same page can be tricky, but there are technologies that can make the process easier



There are a number of ways to share information throughout your corporate structure. Office platforms, video conferencing programs, and cloud storage are all viable tools.
PHOTO: Christian Taube via Wikimedia Commons

CLEVELAND, Ohio.—The future of manufacturing is in digitization.

Michael Walton is the global head of Manufacturing Industry for tech giant Alphabet’s Google Cloud Platform, and he believes that companies not investing in digital technologies are going to be left behind.

“Manufacturing is at a tipping point. We’re observing this right now. This is where digital competency is essential to staying competitive,” Walton said.

“Companies need to go through a fully digital transformation or at least a modernization. Those who have done that deliver a lot more value to their customers, they’ve achieved higher levels of efficiency, and furthermore, their innovation cycles are a lot shorter and a lot faster than the competition.”

Walton, along with executives from Cleveland-based cloud solutions developer Onix and the Manufacturing Enterprise Solutions Association, discussed the future of manufacturing at a Feb. 1 webinar hosted by the Internet of Things Institute.

Satisfying Demand

Walton asserted that customers in 2017 demand greater degrees of customization, choice, and features than ever before. Customers are also aware of the digitization tools manufacturers have at their disposal and expect companies to roll out new high-quality products faster than ever before.

It has never been more imperative to know your customer, and deliver exactly what they want as quickly as possible.

The key to understanding customers and delivering on their expectations is information.

If your company’s various branches are developing worthwhile innovations, but you don’t have the tools to share them with the rest of your corporate structure quickly and efficiently, then those Edisonian inspirations aren’t doing much good.

Communication is Key

Steve Holly, director of Solutions Engineering for Onix, detailed some of the methods manufacturers can use to share information.

Something as simple as a Google Doc, which allows multiple people to add to and edit a single online document, can eliminate the hassle of long email chains and make sharing important data across vast geographic distances instantaneous.

Many of the newest office platforms on the market are built around remote collaboration, and it’s in manufacturers’ best interests to take advantage of these features.

For inter-office communication, instant messaging and video conference programs such as Skype or Google Hangouts can help relay information and keep everyone on message when planning production and innovation cycles.

When it comes to sharing large volumes of complex data, the cloud is the answer.

Walton insists that data which is localized, or categorized into silos, needs to be put onto the cloud so it can be shared and make operations more efficient.

“There are a lot of low-cost ways to do this that have a high degree of security,” Walton said.

Wave of the Future

The convenience benefits of employing these technologies are obvious, but Holly also pointed to these digital tools as a means of recruiting, as manufacturers try to tap into a younger workforce.

“Millennials expect these new tools to be available to them,” Holly said. “If you don’t provide these services and capabilities, they are going to go elsewhere.”

Walton sees information sharing technologies as not just a means of keeping up, but a way to take advantage of the opportunities that are available to manufacturers in the digital age.

“Manufacturers rock!” Walton said. “We’re seeing growth in almost every market. Manufacturing is a great place to be, there’s great opportunity. The trends are moving faster than they ever have, and by digitizing, you’re going to be in a much better position to respond.”

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