The manufacturing industry is largely driven by manual processes. The ‘manual way’ of conducting operations was not just approved but also profitable (ostensibly). And manufacturers were doing quite well, never suspecting the disaster brewing underneath. Come 2020, a catastrophe struck, and struck hard, exposing the fundamental vulnerabilities of the industry in ways transcending the worst nightmare.
Above anything else, the Covid-19 pandemic disillusioned the world with the erstwhile ‘solid’ manual operations and penalized it for the lack of foresight in the context of technology. The crisis hit manufacturers where it hurts the most; with the majority of the employees confined to their homes, most units simply couldn’t take stock of things and were merely passive observers.
While other industries such as IT and banking were successfully negotiating the economic impacts of the pandemic, manufacturers played a waiting game. With operations coming to a halt, blocking revenue streams, uncertainty about the future only made matters worse. The lack of automation technology was felt more intensely than ever; the few who had embraced it before it was too late, found themselves in a visibly better state of affairs.
The nature of manufacturing processes makes them strong candidates for automation. When subjected to robotic process automation (RPA), manufacturing units can realize unprecedented levels of productivity with error-free and streamlined procedures. The following use cases drive the point home.
For the concerned employee, a bill of material is important but not exciting. The long list of materials, components, sub-components, and other features that make up the BOM deserve the blame. They make the process tedious as employees have to sift through various documents and records to get the necessary details to create a typical BOM.
The BOM impacts the procurement of raw materials, stock monitoring, and the assembly process on the shop floor. An inaccurate BOM can wreak financial and operational havoc in the form of revenue loss.
Purchase order creation and invoicing are among the less fulfilling jobs, but there are no substitutes as yet. Manufactures have forever been in the pursuit of a permanent fix for these resource-hungry tasks but haven’t met with anything that resembles success. PO and invoicing processes encounter frequent issues, impacting other parts of the operation and causing down-time. Add absenteeism, late arrivals, and loss of employee resources to the mix, and business loss seems inevitable.
Purchase orders and invoices are used for tracking expenses, validate delivery reports, and even in financial audits. One common denominator of these tasks is that they are rule-based, consistent, and template-driven. RPA can ensure unsurpassable accuracy in executing them, enabling the human workforce to focus on other value-adding activities.
A typical manufacturing unit usually has high a dependency on suppliers, transporters, and vendors, among others. The sheer complexity and volume of transactions with these external stakeholders make them error-prone. The transactions have fundamentally been human-to-human, and the need for automation, although a desire, has hardly been pursued to help drive business growth.
Most tasks comprising vendor management, including vendor selection and vendor information management, consist of manual activities like preparing requests, sending communications, and evaluating vendor credits. These are rule-based and hence automatable; RPA can streamline them and lead to healthy client-vendor equations.
The ERP system is the lifeline of manufacturers. It’s used to monitor and track various operational processes through real-time information on finances, sales, inventory, and others. The problem is that most manufacturers are still on legacy solutions that involve a high degree of manual intervention. RPA is a tried and tested option to streamline ERP processes for better efficiency.
RPA can be integrated with the ERP to eliminate labor-intensive tasks such as data entry, report generation, and others. Since ERP operators have to deal with a high inflow of operational data, the chances of errors are high, making RPA a no-brainer in the manufacturing ecosystem.
Figure: A few other applications of RPA in the manufacturing sector
The Covid-19 pandemic has landed a massive blow to the manufacturing industry. With remote working practices not prevalent in the domain, manufacturers experienced a significant revenue drop and had to resort to stringent cost-cutting measures to ensure survival. This is where RPA could prove to be their savior.
Cost savings: RPA can significantly boost the output quality of processes, enabling the human workforce to shift focus to higher-value tasks, triggering substantial cost savings.
Speed: At a time when social distancing protocols are in force, RPA can enable employees to cut down on the need to spend long hours in factories by expediting administrative processes and eliminating manual, repetitive tasks.
Going virtual: With businesses forced to reduce in-person work, manufacturers should leverage RPA to facilitate effective remote work. RPA can help the IT team to expedite the remote work setup process and ensure that employees have access to appropriate connectivity at home.
Business continuity: RPA is also being used by manufacturers to evaluate the current health and COVID-19 risks of employees. Bots can pull employee survey responses to determine if an individual is low risk enough to go to the workplace, helping prevent risks of infection in the workplace.
Over the years, our tailored RPA solutions have helped countless manufacturing businesses to inject efficiency into their operations. Our focus has always been to reduce the client’s reliance on the human workforce by deploying automation that expedites workflows and eliminates errors. Even during the Covid-19 disaster, when most manufacturing units were forced to suspend operations, we enabled our clients to ensure business continuity by boosting their remote work structure. We can do the same for you.
Anjan Barman is a technology enthusiast with primary interests in the applications and possibilities of Cloud, RPA, AI, CRM, and the like in modern businesses. He loves exploring how innovations help organizations improve their efficiency while reducing operating costs and presents the same in an atypical way.