RPA in Manufacturing - All You Need to Know
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Physical robots have been used in the manufacturing sector for a few decades now. While they have streamlined and made production on factory floors easier, the expansion of businesses has made back-office processes increasingly complex and time-consuming. Automation using RPA can iron out difficulties in handling different processes and help manufacturers in achieving efficiency and productivity in their business.
What is RPA?
RPA or robotic process automation is a popular technology that is used to build and implement robots that mimic human activity in interacting and performing tasks in software applications.
The ability of software bots to perform repetitive and mundane tasks with speed and accuracy has made it a convenient option to implement in many industries. An annual Deloitte RPA survey emphasizes the increasing prevalence of RPA in many organizations and its benefits. The use of RPA can guarantee big savings on time and effort and accelerate task completion, reducing human dependency to a great extent.
Importance of RPA in Manufacturing
The manufacturing sector has been using physical robots in many business tasks including assembly, production planning, inventory management, and more, as part of industrial automation. The dependence on increasing processes has also necessitated the industry to look for the digital transformation of processes using RPA. This kind of automation is critical for optimizing core operations to improve productivity at all levels.
RPA can help manufacturers to automate rule-based operations to deal with routine tasks, increase focus on innovation, and expedite process completion with speed and accuracy. Besides integrating bots to deal with production or shipping processes on the production floor, automating administrative tasks such as data entry, performing credit checks, preparation of reports, etc., can reduce human effort and dependence significantly.
How is RPA Used in Manufacturing?
The manufacturing industry is colossal and can vary vastly in terms of requirements and business needs. Automation can play a significant role not only on factory floors but also in easing other processes and tasks.
RPA helps tackle different processes such as inventory management, regulatory compliance, purchase order processing, invoice verification, customer service, and more. Automation of these crucial processes has helped organizations worry less about repetitive tasks and focus more on improving quality and growth.
Manufacturing companies use RPA to handle processes that require manual effort and labour with ease and precision making it possible to achieve increased productivity and profitability.
Advantages of Using RPA in Manufacturing
The capabilities of RPA to help in the automation of various business tasks can be highly advantageous for the manufacturing industry. Process automation can provide numerous benefits some of which are detailed below:
- Increased job satisfaction and productivity - Automating processes help save a lot of time and effort for employees. Once the mundane and repetitive tasks are automated, the workforce can channel their focus to attend to other tasks that require their attention. All this contributes to increased job satisfaction and more productivity, which in turn increases real-time production for the organization.
- High accuracy - Manual processes are prone to human error and errors can cause huge delays that can prove costly for the business. When processes are automated, there is less chance of mistakes in the maintenance of documents or completion of tasks which ensures high accuracy.
- Faster processing time - Automating non-creative processes can help complete processes quickly and more efficiently. Since there are no time lapses or approval waiting time involved, tasks get completed on time. Also, it is easier to make decisions with the automated availability of data. For example, automating inventory management is useful to know stock availability to start production of a product without delay.
- Mitigates labour shortage - Though RPA automation involves investment in the technology, it is highly reliable and well worth it. Finding skilled personnel to perform processes takes time, effort, and cost as well. A one-time investment in technology lowers human dependence, eliminates delays, and increases business efficiency.
- Easy integration - RPA systems are flexible enough to be integrated into existing systems allowing the seamless digital transformation of data from other connected systems. With no coding required, they are easy to implement and need no big changeover.
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Limitations of RPA in Manufacturing
- Expensive - Use of RPA means extra investment in technology and with it, required training costs. Depending on the processes, the relevant personnel has to be taught to deploy RPA to perform effectively in their absence. Hence for RPA to be successful the manufacturer needs to consider substantial technology and training investment before reaping the benefits, which may not be suitable for every company.
- Limited suitability - RPA is designed to suit rule-based tasks and processes that have no variation. Suitable for repetitive tasks, RPA may not suit tasks that need to be changed or are complex and need human intervention.
- Inflexible - Most of the RPA solutions in manufacturing are custom-made depending on business requirements. Hence, any changes to the rule-based processes may not be accommodated leading to unnecessary maintenance costs.
- Increased risk - RPA bots cannot replace human ingenuity. They cannot spot errors or problems as humans can. If there is anything wrong with the data, they might ignore or process it incorrectly increasing risk and delays in the process.
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Use Cases for RPA in Manufacturing
RPA may be applied to automate many processes in the manufacturing industry. A few of them are detailed below:
1. Purchase order creation
Purchase orders (PO) are crucial to manufacturing organizations and a considerable amount of effort and time is spent on them. The complexity increases when there are multiple categories of products present making it a formidable task. RPA solutions can simplify the entire PO by following a predefined rule-based workflow. This automated process includes extracting relevant data, getting approvals from respective heads via emails, and enabling the smooth processing of PO creation.
2. Inventory management
Inventory management is an important aspect of supply chain management. Adequate inventory levels are necessary to ensure that production can start to meet consumer demands. Along with inventory management, inventory reporting aids in optimizing supply chain processes for enhancing overall production and revenue.
Functions such as monitoring stock levels, initiation of alerts/ reminders on replenishing stocks, reordering of items, tracking deliveries, sending email responses, and generating reports are some of the things that RPA can take care of.
3. Invoice processing
Invoice processing is a highly rule-based process that makes it an excellent choice for using RPA. This crucial process also helps manufacturers maintain smooth and strong relationships with their vendors.
Extraction of invoice data, matching invoices with purchase orders, delivery receipts, etc., identification of duplicate invoices, and updating records can all be possibly automated with RPA.
4. Customer Service
Manufacturing industries also need to focus on customer service to keep them satisfied and happy. RPA solutions that have a chatbot feature can use that to act as a first-level response to customer queries even during non-working hours.
They can also be automated to respond to emails to reduce waiting periods and to make up for the absence of staff. This enables manufacturers to ensure customers are taken care of at all times.
5. Bill of Materials (BOM)
The bill of materials is a crucial document for all manufacturers. It is a detailed list of the raw materials, components, and more items that are needed for manufacturing a particular product.
RPA can assist in making standard templates available for creating new BOMs, Identifying and alerting for missing documents, and picking alternative components from databases for use to ensure that production is carried out smoothly.
Apart from all the above, RPA can also be used for automation of certain HR processes, transportation, sales & marketing, and more to add value and ease obstacles in manufacturing concerns.
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Current Challenges in Implementing RPA Solutions in Manufacturing
While RPA solutions can bring a host of benefits to manufacturers, many organizations face challenges in implementing one effectively. Some of the issues faced are:
Lack of knowledge and coordination - Implementing RPA needs coordinated efforts from all the employees. Insufficient knowledge about the working methodology or the processes in question can result in chaos. Involvement of top management, training, understanding, and coordination between teams/ departments is required to lower risk factors, ensure security in the automation, and maintain a smooth workflow to achieve projected results through RPA.
Task or process limitations - RPA solutions may not be suitable for all end-to-end automation of all processes. Only specific tasks which are mundane or repetitive are suitable for RPA technology. For complete automation, solutions that have a combination of RPA and AI technologies would be required to bring about desired benefits. But this would mean additional investment and training which may not be feasible for all manufacturers.
Implementation issues - Most manufacturing concerns face issues during RPA implementation. Certain processes may be identified or planned for automation but the reality can be very different. Unforeseen scenarios, different requirements, and the involvement of multiple business units can pose challenges in the smooth execution of RPA.
Lack of resources - The most common problem faced by manufacturing industries is the right resources required for the smooth functioning of RPA solutions. First, RPA tools need to be customized to suit a manufacturing business. Second, skilled personnel is required not only to understand and execute RPA but also to quickly step in to identify and resolve issues that can arise in the automation of processes.
Selecting an inappropriate RPA solution - To reap the right benefits, automation in manufacturing requires correct identification of processes as well as choosing the right RPA solution. Often the realization of having chosen the wrong solution comes only in the implementation stage when customization needs are not met and the manufacturer has to cope with increased expenses.
3 Ways Automation is Improving Manufacturing
Automation can reshape the way manufacturing industries work. Some of the significant improvements it can bring to the table are:
1. Enhanced efficiency - Process automation can augment efficiency in the manufacturing sector. Automation of processes reduces manual errors and thereby prevents losses to the company.
Inefficient manual processes can cause unnecessary delays, forbid smooth functioning, and prevent timely decision-making. Digitization of processes and the use of robots increase speed and efficiency contributing to substantial growth and revenue to the manufacturing concern.
2. Better risk management - Automating processes can lower various business risks significantly. The first and foremost is the reduced risk of human errors. Once the rules-based processes are defined, machines can easily perform tasks with precision and stability. Automation of processes can also significantly lower the workload of employees leading to a lower risk of dissatisfaction in employees and helping channel their productivity into more important tasks.
3. Increasing the go-to-market speed - Manufacturers are responsible for not only producing quality goods but ensure that it reaches the customer on time, to retain their presence in the competitive market.
Automation ensures process completion at a more rapid pace than manual processes which are often marred by human errors. This can boost production multiple times and ensure that the manufacturer can cope with deadlines to actually get the product on the market for customers’ use.
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Why Automation is Crucial for D2C Manufacturers
D2C (direct-to-customer) manufacturers have increasing responsibility with every passing day. In a world filled with cut-throat competition, automation has contributed to enhancing work efficiency and better decision-making. Manufacturers no longer need to be concerned about wasting time on non-creative, repetitive tasks or facing challenges that occur as a result of human error.
RPA systems that are planned and implemented correctly can lower the incidence of errors, improve process speed, save on human effort, and enhance productivity with reliable and accurate data in many administrative areas.
Automation helps manufacturers to take care of production schedules and manage inventory which results in increased production levels and faster growth in the market. RPA also enables increased focus on building customer outreach with digitized bots assisting in marketing campaigns and maintaining 24/7 customer service.
Automation has already made a long headway in manufacturing and RPA has already started to refine the way processes are carried out. Though RPA involves careful consideration regarding its suitability, proper planning, and a sizable investment, it can optimize tasks and processes that took immense manual effort and time. RPA holds a lot of potentials and combined with modern technologies, there is no doubt that it can bring immense value and growth to the manufacturing sector in the future.
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