Last week I attended the SAPInsider Conference in Copenhagen. The conference focused on the future of manufacturing, and many of the keynotes and sessions highlighted how digitally transforming manufacturing was the key to competing in today’s marketplace and meeting the demands of modern consumers.
Logistics in a fully-connected world
The grand vision that dominated the conference was the idea of creating one logistics platform to provide manufacturers with an overview of everything: production, transportation management, maintenance and inventory. This would remove the need to transfer data from one system to another, because everything would reside on one platform. The goal would be to reduce the duplication of information in multiple environments. This caught my attention, as it’s one of the main things we highlight when talking with companies about digitally transforming their labeling. Before you can have the overview possible with IoT, before you can create intelligent manufacturing processes, you must have all of the data in one place. That data needs to be validated and digitized; only then can you begin to feed that information to operators to improve decision making, and combine that information with input from other systems to improve processes.
Complete product individualization
Another interesting prediction involved the arrival of complete product individualization. To compete and differentiate themselves in crowded marketplaces, manufacturers are having to prioritize customer preferences, giving the consumer the power to adapt products to meet their own set of specifications. Yet with pressure on pricing, manufacturers have to deliver this level of customization at the same price point (or lower) as they did with mass production. The only way to tackle this is by re-imagining and reinventing the supply chain, taking advantage of advances in digital manufacturing to produce customizable products on-demand.
What will this mean for labeling? Well clearly, you can’t deliver individualized products with manual labeling. Well you could try, but you would quickly drown in the paperwork. To manufacture on demand and rapidly produce customizable products, you need to have a digitized labeling system that can be updated quickly and expanded to include new products.
Can you deliver in 30 minutes or less?
Delivery times are under pressure. While very few have been able to live up to the 30-minute promise yet, next day delivery is definitely mainstream. To deliver at this speed, manufacturers are having to rethink the way they produce goods. SAP representatives highlighted how many manufacturers are adding 3D printing services to their supply chain and, by doing so, drastically reducing the goods they have on stock. By utilizing 3D printing services, they are able to produce products on-demand at the time of ordering. Again, this level of agility and responsiveness puts high demands on a manufacturer’s labeling process. Extending production and shipping of goods to third-parties requires that you have a consistent, standardized labeling process that can be extended throughout the chain. They have to be able to generate accurate, compliant labels on-demand, in a variety of languages, and the original manufacturer needs to have a record of all of these labels for quality assurance and brand protection purposes. Suppliers also need to be able to access your label printing system easily, without using time on deployment and training.
Say goodbye to traditional supply chain boundaries
The keynote speaker talked about a world where everything was connected, where the lines between a company’s network and a supplier’s network are completely blurred, if not nonexistent. Consider the potential of the fully-digitized supply chain: in addition to monitoring machines used in production, feeding information from their sensors back to operators in order to monitor their performance and predict possible breakdowns, operators can then analyze the performance of these machines, identify the most frequent causes for breakdowns and then feed this information back to the machine manufacturer. Suddenly the manufacturer can improve the machine, which can lead to an improved product, which benefits both companies.
Now apply that to label production. Getting real-time information from the machines involved in the manufacturing process should include label printers as well. By getting real-time alerts and error information on print jobs, print operators can react immediately to address print delays, and they can also gather this information to get a better understanding of how their label printers are performing. They can identify where errors arise, understand why they occur and then take steps to address these issues, whether they’re on the manufacturer’s side or the supplier’s.
Time to transform
Yes, the message was clear: Manufacturing companies need to be more agile. They need to increase the speed of every aspect of their operations, and the key to doing that is embracing digital transformation in all its forms. Why not start with labeling? Read more about how to digitally transform your labeling here.