Business process automation has sparked a revolution in how manufacturers approach their systems and processes. It is not only about reducing manual effort anymore; today, manufacturers are looking to drive innovation and build agile organizations that run on accelerated processes end to end. A slew of next-gen technologies enables this – most importantly, robotic process automation (RPA), with smaller investments and more significant gains.
RPA is among the more mature technology markets ahead of manufacturers. Unlike emerging tools like Blockchain or Mixed Reality, RPA has witnessed a significant amount of investment in the last few years.
Experts reported that the global market size for industrial automation stood at $157.04 billion in 2018. From hereon, analysts predict that the market size will reach $296.7 billion by 2026, growing at a healthy CAGR of 8.4%. The adoption of Industry 4.0 trends is among the key drivers for this growth, as technologies like IoT and AI enter the factory floor, opening up new areas for automation. Traditional RPA was limited to rules-based workflows, where manufacturing stakeholders could execute processes as per a specific set of business rules. This approach was rather rigid, unable to handle exceptional scenarios. But IoT and AI have pushed RPA capabilities into third gear, allowing manufacturers to:
- Gather a vast amount of data through IoT before making an automated decision
- Ensure that multiple variables are assessed via AI to unlock the most optimal choice possible
And business leaders are bullish about investing in RPA. One estimate by the London School of Economics suggests that ROI from robotic technologies can be anywhere between 600% and 800% for specific tasks. Given the sheer volume of manufacturing tasks that could gain from RPA, impacts on the bottom line would be massive. While adding value to our clients through intelligent automation, we’ve come across four bright areas that are noteworthy:
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Faster and smarter onboarding of new suppliers
RPA can help to break down the silos that plague supplier onboarding processes. It powers automated Electronic Data Exchange (EDI) to seamlessly and securely share data across various stakeholders. Instead of processing complex paper documents, RPA quickly scans supplier data to populate a manufacturer’s ERP.
Consider how the automotive manufacturer, Yazaki, recently adopted RPA to accelerate customer and supplier onboarding. Through automated provisioning, Yazaki can reduce the time required to add new trading partners, facilitating uninterrupted data flows across its 120 locations and 100s of customers/suppliers
Greater collaboration with manufacturer freight forwarders
Traditionally, freight management was fraught with manual dependencies, with human executives needed to transfer data during load matching and other critical operational moments of truth. RPA makes these processes, simpler while also providing a platform where manufacturers, freight brokers, and carriers can now collaborate.
RPA can make a difference in other aspects of freight handling as well, like suggesting the best possible transport route and managing freight claims/payments. 2019 saw a significant move in this space, with logistics provider – Convoy – announcing a 100% automated practice for matching manufacturing loads to freight trucks.
Predictive planning for supply chains
In the Industry 4.0 era, manufacturers should be able to anticipate demand flux and scale up/down their inventory accordingly. Such predictive capabilities will make supply chains more agile and ready to monetize business opportunities with jeopardizing the margin.
RPA platforms connect and collate disparate data from a variety of sources, ranging from operational industrial IoT systems to customer insights from the CRM. This method helps to plan procurement and supply, optimizing manufacturing performance accurately. Intelligent RPA can even go as far as to recommend the right decisions for supply chain managers, given the data set at hand. Research from EY confirms that planning for future material requirements and energy consumption will be among the key business benefits, manufacturers can expect from RPA.