Collaborating along assembly lines
Minhaj Zia, National Sales Manager, Cisco India & SAARC
The ability to find, create, and capitalize new product and service ideas sets highly successful manufacturing companies apart, especially in complex, fast-moving global markets. As they grow and expand globally, manufacturing organizations are finding it difficult to harness local expertise to solve problems and collaborate on new product designs. New manufacturing plants often do not have experts with experience in managing processes and equipment. Resources required to address quality issues across a global supply chain are limited, customer service representatives have limited or no knowledge necessary to support an increasing number of complex products, and product development teams are distributed across geographies often located far away from the plants and suppliers that build the products they design.
According to a Forrester research report
- 63% of manufacturers believe that they can save an hour or more of problem-resolution time if they had access to experts.
- 72% of manufacturers believe they can reduce travel costs with video and web collaboration.
- 84% of manufacturers believe that rapid problem resolution could help improve customer satisfaction tremendously.
Given the above challenges, manufacturers who create unique product and service offerings for their customers stand to benefit from the advantage of innovation and greater customer satisfaction. In addition to serving the needs of their customers better, such organizations are able to gain competitive advantage, and improve their revenue and business margins. Innovation can help to gain lead in existing markets, help manufacturers to tap into new markets and stay ahead of competition. Technology innovation also helps to lower costs and fosters product development in new ways.
Advanced technologies like Unified Communications (UC) enable manufacturers gain deep visibility into supply chains and help to minimize the time and rework of processes. Communication and collaboration enabled by these technologies help to improve employee productivity and lead to better quality production. Decisions can be made with greater confidence and delays can be reduced or eliminated, thus helping manufacturing companies to better meet their customer needs.
UC and manufacturing
One of the biggest risks in manufacturing is having a factory product line go down -thousands or millions of dollars of production are at risk for every hour or every day that the line is down. In a lines-down situation, those responsible for solving the problem can make use of a collaborative solution and automatically out dial a pre-defined team of people responsible for problem resolution. The technology solution can reach out to them simultaneously, based on business rules - cell phone, pager, work phone, home phone, whatever is the fastest, and bring them into an audio conference. The team can enter the meeting via IP phone or via the telephony user interface on their cell phone.
Solutions that allow for integration of plant floor data with business systems provide employees with access to the information as and when they need it, and help to improve business efficiencies and decision-making abilities. Manufacturers obtain visibility to the factory floor without disrupting the production line and are able to add new services to the existing control network at any time and any location in the network, while maintaining the existing control scheme. This ensures the continued operation of the manufacturing plant and emergence of each and every employee into a strategic business asset.
UC solutions thus bring visibility into the entire supply chain, allowing manufacturers to make informed decisions based on the most up to date information and help them make decisions based on current inventory levels. They can help re-route goods in transit, manage network security across many different connected locations, both internal and external and also allow for collaboration with the factory floor, suppliers, distribution centres and customers. This helps to keep costs down and ensure prompt and accurate order fulfilment.
The new supply chains can respond quickly to demand and command a better price without having to discount excess inventory. They can thus meet evolving and more rigorous external and internal compliance mandates, such as radio frequency identification (RFID) and enterprise resource planning (ERP) extensions, along with outsource functions without losing control, visibility, speed, quality or other requirements.
Solutions like Cisco's Customer Interaction Network (CIN), for example, help manufacturers to enhance interactions across all customer touch points, including sales, service, outsourcing vendors, channel partners and work together more effectively and efficiently to achieve greater customer intimacy. By utilising technology, anticipating and responding to customer needs, manufacturing companies not only improve customer loyalty, but also optimise the entire production process to deliver what customers need.
Video as an enabler
As an extension of the UC protocol, video collaboration provides manufacturers with the ability to quickly locate available experts; communicate across multiple locations, devices and companies; get multiple parties into a collaborative session to share expertise and resolve problems. Video helps to reduce plant downtime and improves employee productivity by helping manufacturers to quickly respond to issues on the plant floor. Effective collaboration between engineering, manufacturing, and suppliers enabled by video during prototype and initial production runs, helps manufacturers to accelerate their time to market and improve supplier quality and delivery.
Video also helps to provide more effective customer service and enables manufacturers to meet higher service-level agreements through increased access to expertise for customers and field service personnel. By employing video, manufacturers benefit from shorter lead times, faster turnaround times, and better service which help them gain key 'customer-centric' competitive advantages, attract new business while retaining existing ones.
In essence therefore, by using UC technology manufacturers stand to gain deep visibility into supply chains, minimize the time and rework of processes and in turn meet increasing customer expectations while managing costs.