This article first appeared in the Winter issue of The Record.
Water and steam power mechanised manufacturing during the 18th century’s first industrial revolution, electric power helped to create mass production in the second, and computers automated production in the third. Today in Industry 4.0, robotics, advanced analytics and machine learning are digitising production and bringing a much higher level of automation to the supply chain and production line.
Now that the entire manufacturing value chain is becoming digitised, companies must ensure data flows more efficiently between their internal engineering, design, production, marketing and sales teams, as well as external suppliers and retailers.
“Traditionally manufacturing companies have operated with IT in the background, but because they’re trying to do more for less and compete against new market entrants, IT is now integral to their success,” says Steve Blackwell, senior enterprise architect of manufacturing at Dimension Data. “IT systems are helping manufacturers to streamline operations, implement predictive maintenance processes, track what’s happening in the production plant and much more. Consequently, the faster manufacturers can get information from one part of the value chain to the next, the quicker and more accurately people can complete their tasks, and the sooner a higher quality product can go to market.”
However, notes Blackwell, this can be complicated, especially when you consider that many manufacturers operate on an international or global basis.
“Manufacturing projects might involve engineers based in the US, France, Singapore and Australia, and every team member must be able to access the most up-to-date and accurate information when they need it, otherwise it will delay production,” he explains. “Manufacturers also need to share data with external suppliers and contractors.”
Enterprise collaboration and productivity tools such as Microsoft Office 365 and Skype for Business make it easy for colleagues to share information and communicate, whether they are located in the same building, or a different region of the world.
“Office 365 is effective for sharing documents and other data,” remarks Blackwell. “Meanwhile, Skype for Business is the perfect tool for real-time voice and video collaboration, particularly because it can be used on multiple platforms. For example, an office-based product designer can join a Skype meeting via their desktop PC or a landline, while a field-based engineer can dial in via a smartphone. All of this technology ensures people can speak to the right people and access critical information whenever they need it, regardless of where they are, or what device they use.”
Helping manufacturers to make the most of technologies like Office 365 and Skype for Business forms a key part of Dimension Data’s Workspaces for Tomorrow initiative.
“Over the past couple of years, Industry 4.0 has introduced workflow automation, IoT, data analytics, cloud computing and much more to the manufacturing industry, and this has significantly changed how people work,” says Blackwell. “As part of our offering, and to accelerate our clients’ digital ambitions to embrace Workspaces for Tomorrow, we provide a consultation workshop where we identify our clients’ business goals and how technology maps to achieving those goals. We then look at their existing technologies, devices and IT infrastructure to build a roadmap that will enable them to achieve their aims.”
However, according to Raj Mistry, group vertical sales director of automotive, Dimension Data does much more than simply implementing new technologies to boost collaboration or optimise operations.
“We develop the back-end infrastructure that enables manufacturers to get value out of the collaboration technologies, cool gadgets and data analytics software they want to deploy,” he says. “For example, if a client wants to roll out Skype for Business to improve employee collaboration, we might recommend that they switch from a wired network to high-density wi-fi so they have sufficient bandwidth for it to work properly. We also provide monitoring, predictive maintenance and support services to help clients gets the most out of their new technology on a long-term basis.”
To support this, Dimension Data also provides an End User Computing Development Model (EUCDM) consultation.
“Our EUCDM helps companies to create the end-user computing strategy they need to enable employees to collaborate and work efficiently anywhere at any time in today’s multi-device environment,” Blackwell comments. “For example, we’re currently using our EUCDM to support Malaysia-based offshore and marine services provider Malaysia Marine and Heavy Engineering to move services to the cloud and migrate applications such as Microsoft Exchange, Lync and SharePoint to the Active Directory forest.”
Dimension Data’s EUCDM also helps companies to protect their most valuable asset: their intellectual property (IP).
“Manufacturers are currently losing a huge volume of IP because their networks aren’t sufficiently protected, but as hackers are becoming smarter, tomorrow’s digital workspaces will need to be even more secure,” says Mistry. “With an approach that embraces Workspaces for Tomorrow and with our consulting methodology found in the EUCDM, Dimension Data can certainly help manufacturing companies to deploy the technologies they need to modernise processes in the most secure environment possible. That’s the biggest differentiator between us and our competitors.”