Manufacturing companies face a unique set of IT challenges, and the ways they’re addressed have real, physical ramifications that impact business’s bottom lines. For manufacturers, IT isn’t some abstract system that enables a service. It’s the tangible architecture that makes producing products possible.

While manufacturing IT issues are often straightforward to diagnose, they can be complex to address. The manufacturing firms that are able to manage them well will have a considerable leg up on their competitors.

With that in mind, let’s take a look at five of the top IT challenges for manufacturers, in the hope that a better understanding of them will lead to the implementation of better solutions.

1. Maintaining uptime.

This is the age-old IT challenge of manufacturing. Downtime (especially of the unplanned variety) is a killer of profit.

Studies estimate that the cost of downtime measured across all businesses sits at around $260,000 per hour. This may be an underestimate for manufacturers, though. One study found that automotive manufacturers, for example, lose up to $3 million per hour that their systems are down. Regardless of the exact cost, there’s no denying that unplanned downtime is expensive, and as experts estimate that the manufacturing industry loses 800 hours to downtime each year, it’s an ongoing and major issue.

Better IT is a critical step toward reducing downtime. Proactively maintaining systems can go a long way toward reducing downtime; predictive maintenance is the next step. It will enable machines to relay data at incredibly granular levels to prevent breakdowns – by sending alerts, for instance, when parts are under abnormal levels of strain, or by automatically tracking machine wear and sending notifications for replacement.

At a general level, the takeaway on downtime is that it must be avoided, and IT system dependability is crucial in accomplishing that goal.

2. Managing data.

Data management is another challenge area for manufacturers. The problem, increasingly, isn’t a lack of data; it’s an inability to use data to generate insights. Technology platforms are constantly generating data about production lines, supply chains, employee performance – the list goes on and on. Manufacturers have massive amounts of data.

The problem is that that data still may not be integrated (so, for instance, the data on employee performance may not inform production line activity). And, secondly, data is often not organized well in ways that are conducive to visibility. The good news is that solutions like Microsoft Power BI can help greatly with these issues so that data can be used to make intelligent decisions.

Two big areas where data visibility can help are in forecasting product demand and in managing inventory (which are related endeavors). Product demand is impacted by external factors; currency exchange rates, supply chain prices, current market trends, and other variables will influence how quickly or slowly products will move. This data needs to be visualized in order for production to be optimized.

Inventory management is obviously more controllable through internal systems. Technology allows for granular and accurate tracking up and down the production line. Visibility platforms allow manufacturers to account for every part and product in ways that increase efficiency and optimize production.

The bottom line is that data management is a big IT challenge – but the companies that manage it well will reap huge dividends.

3. Incorporating new technologies.

Manufacturing IT can’t simply maintain systems. For manufacturers to thrive in increasingly competitive spaces, their IT must be strategic in implementing new technologies.

This is a challenge because the increasing rate of change in manufacturing technology makes it hard to keep up. New technologies require strategic consideration. They must be secure. They must be useful. But they can’t afford to be ignored.

The data management platforms we’ve discussed are one area where new technology can drive progress. Over the next decade, there will be more manufacturing data generated than ever before, and companies must capture it and act on it.

Another (related) area that will impact success over the next decade is the internet of things (IoT). Increasingly, manufacturing hardware is connected to the internet. Systems must be set up in ways that make IoT devices reliable; these technologies tend to be particularly vulnerable to cyberattacks. Networks must be set up to be secure, functional, and dependable.

IT must be innovative, not just defensive.

4. Becoming more agile.

Because of the increasing rate of technological change, manufacturing must be agile.

In other words, manufacturers must be able to quickly adapt to changing market demands and technology innovations. This is a challenge, because traditional productions lines were often highly optimized for specific needs.

It will be challenging to integrate legacy systems with the latest applications and platforms to improve production quality and efficiency. It will be challenging to design production processes that can quickly shift as data changes. But it will be necessary – and better manufacturing IT can help.

5. Cybersecurity.

Finally, manufacturers face intimidating cybersecurity challenges.

We’ve already discussed downtime, but cyberattacks can have other implications, too. From data breaches to hacks, firms face the very real potential of significant losses from cyber events. And, as we’ve mentioned, IoT networks are notoriously vulnerable to attacks. Experts forecast that the rate of cyberattacks will only increase over the next decade.

Accordingly, IT solutions for manufacturing must offer robust cybersecurity services that can help manufacturers to minimize these risks. This will include updated approaches to managed backups, evolving approaches to network hardening, and the development of enhanced security policies.

Ready to start solving your manufacturing IT challenges?

Hopefully, this outline of IT challenges for manufacturers has been helpful as you consider your own company’s technology. If you’re ready to start solving these challenges, get in touch with us.

At ATB Technologies, we provide IT support for manufacturing companies using the managed service model to deliver proactive IT support.

Too many manufacturing companies are stagnating with IT issues thanks to a lack of communication that builds mistrust over time. We remove this barrier by hiring for communication skills and customer service. We take an end-to-end approach to IT that gives businesses the best technology for their needs and prevents issues before they happen so that our clients can turn IT into an advantage.

If you’re looking for the ideal IT solution for your manufacturing firm – one that will help you to overcome the challenges you face – let’s talk.

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