Robotic process automation in the manufacturing industry

Can RPA really make life easy for manufacturers? There's strong evidence that it can.
27 August 2018

RPA has a huge role to play in manufacturing. Source: Shutterstock

When people think of robotic process automation (RPA), they think of software robots — scripts and codes that automate repetitive tasks.

By definition, it’s a tool for those in the executive cadre looking for ways and means to be more productive and do more with their time. As a result, RPA is expected to be of use to financial services companies and executives in customer service and business analysis functions in various businesses.

However, being a script-based solution, as against a physical device or tool, many people discount the value that RPA can bring to manufacturers.

The industry is already building an automation mindset — and is investing billions of dollars in robots already, whether powered by artificial intelligence or not. As a result, deploying RPAs in the manufacturing industry is expected to be a quick and easy exercise.

As far as divisions with manufacturing, there are many core and non-core manufacturing functions that could gain from the use of RPA solutions. Here are a few examples:

# 1 | Automating the bill of materials

When you’re running a manufacturing facility, one of the most important documents is the Bill of Materials (BoM). It’s what the shop floor, the manager, and even company analysts use to list the raw materials, components, sub-components and other products for the new product creation.

The document provides detailed information to everyone within the business about what materials are required to purchase something, how much they typically cost, and where to procure them from.

Ideally, the BoM also helps analysts understand future trends in terms of supply and pricing of relevant materials — determining whether something will be available for the foreseeable future and where its price is headed.

Using RPA to automate the processes that create and update the BoM can add significant value to the industry not only because it will make creating and tracking changes much faster, but also because it will help businesses avoid the costly human errors that creep in when people are tasked with managing the BoM.

# 2 | Administration and reporting of labor and factory records

When it comes to a manufacturing organization, there’s a lot of data that needs to be recorded and managed — and much of it comes from the factory — and manufacturing companies typically own several factories in different parts of the world.

Using RPA, manufacturers can make it easier and more effective to record and analyze relevant information.

Say, a few of your workers have fallen sick and are unable to work for a particular week. The factory’s foreman then needs to either employ additional labor at a particular rate or presumably push delivery to certain clients by a week.

Either way, the changes require making several entries and providing reports to other parts of the business, such as customer relations and finance. RPA can make all of this a breeze, and help make the business more effective overall.

# 3 | Costing and pricing of products

When you consider a manufacturing facility, you see raw materials being purchased, you see labor being hired, there are overheads such as rent, lighting, and heating, and there are spares and maintenance expenses to be paid.

All of those activities help the business create the finished goods that it sells to other businesses and sometimes, to customers.

Using RPA, businesses can make costing and pricing of products painless. There will be fewer chances of error, there will be more efficiency, and with some help from analytics, the businesses will be able to uncover insights about its buyers — and price more effectively in order to maximize returns to the business.

# 4 | Logistics data automation

There’s a lot of logistics information that businesses need to keep track of.

From buying raw materials for its own production and tracking its inward journey, to producing something and making sure it is transported to the right people at the right time, manufacturers deal with logistics information that is critical to their business.

Using RPA, manufacturers may automate the tasks and make sure they’re done well and on time. For many manufacturers, using RPA can also help track inventory and delivery schedules, allowing them to be proactive when it comes to delivering value to buyers.

RPA is beneficial when it comes to logistics data automation, simply because of the large number of inward and outward movement of goods involved in any manufacturing operation. Delays not only mean added cost but could also risk alienating customers.

# 5 | Routine maintenance and reporting

Often, in today’s digital-first world, manufacturing equipment contains software that makes maintenance and diagnostics easy.

However, remembering which devices and equipment need to run the maintenance software and when the test must be scheduled is key — and something that RPA can automate quickly and effectively.

When you think of maintenance, you also need to think about reporting. Simply diagnosing the health of devices and the problems they might throw up isn’t important, helping the management understand this and make appropriate and timely decisions is just as important.

RPA can automate the reporting task and help manufacturers get the help each of their factories need, before any critical machinery breaks down.