Trends in global manufacturing drive complexity in an already dynamic field


Imagine a trucking company with a mass exodus of second-shift employees. Would you believe this turnover could be tied to poor data management? It happened recently to a large U.S. trucking company that keeps products moving for manufacturers. After management investigated the reasons so many employees were unhappy, they found that the bulk of the 16,000 orders that came in each day, which had a deadline to be completed by midnight due to “title of goods” issues, was falling to the second shift to enter manually. Each order had over 30 fields to enter. This pace eventually pushed many workers to their breaking point.

The explosion of data experienced by this trucking company, along with increasing supply chain complexity and dynamic regulatory and compliance concerns, are some of the key trends that continue to add fuel to the already-intricate workings of global manufacturing.

Explosion of data

While technology has made more data available to manufacturers than ever, it has also increased the stress of having to manage that data and turn it into usable information. The McKinsey Institute reports, “In 15 of the US economy’s 17 sectors, companies with more than 1,000 employees store, on average, over 235 terabytes of data—more data than is contained in the US Library of Congress.”

“There is such a large volume of data coming to decision makers through various systems such as SAP, Oracle, Salesforce, etc. that it is hard for them to process data into timely business decisions,” said Tim Rowland, Lexmark vice president and general manager, manufacturing industry. “Sorting through large amounts of data quickly and getting to the facts needed to make critical real-time business decisions is what manufacturers need.”

In a global environment, distributed locations and systems can make it difficult for information to travel from one enterprise location to all locations that need it. Further, as the types of available data increase, management of that data can be difficult as much of the data is unstructured. Finally, the sheer volume of data required to run a global business can create problems for those employees within the business to find the information they need in a timely manner.

Supply chain complexity

As businesses continue to expand their reach into new markets around the world, sharing information across multiple systems and vendors can slow processes and create headaches. The sheer movements of materials and parts, not to mention the servicing of products in the global arena, add to the complexity. While some manufacturers have a good system for forward logistics (getting product into the hands of consumers), most do not have a good process in place for reverse logistics, such as taking products back when they have been damaged and returned.

“Gone are the days where the manufacturing plant is next door to headquarters where shipping happens on the back dock,” said Rowland. “A recent workflow audit showed about 40 steps to get a product moved from the manufacturing facility in China to the point of distribution in Spain.”

Regulatory and compliance concerns

Understanding the operational differences country to country is difficult enough; managing the continual government changes and span of control in varying countries creates even more of a challenge for many manufacturers. For example, in the United States, the 2013 Federal Register contained more than 80,000 pages of new regulations, rules and notices. Ongoing worldwide changes create compliance concerns and a mountain of paperwork, which can make it difficult for manufacturers to stay audit ready.

How are these trends affecting global manufacturers? The sheer amount of data flowing through an enterprise can paralyze an organization as decisions cannot be made in a timely manner when key data cannot be easily accessed and managed. Complex paperwork in various languages along with ad hoc processes region by region can slow information flow and decision making. Finally, when information is not communicated clearly or not made available in a timely manner during key audit periods, providing the required documentation can be a daunting and costly task.

“Inconsistency of systems within a manufacturing organization created through acquisitions or from autonomous groups not working together creates a web of disparate systems such as financial systems, transportation systems and warehouse management systems that often cannot communicate with one another,” said Rowland.

Taking control

While many of the moving parts in global manufacturing cannot be controlled or managed, managed print services (MPS) can provide control for the enterprise to gain 100 percent global fleet visibility, provide a secure printing infrastructure and manage costs with proactive consumables and services management.

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