In many respects, Australia is leading the way when it comes to innovation in manufacturing. Over the last decade, we have seen huge advances in the way in which local manufacturers use technology to identify issues, evolve their supply chains, monitor the location of stock, and open pathways to new and emerging markets.

Recently, we spoke with Steven Miller, SMB Director at Microsoft Australia, about what he sees as some of the key innovation opportunities for Australian manufacturers right now.

1. Cloud

For manufacturers, adopting cloud-based technology has the potential to deliver enormous benefits in all kinds of areas. With centralised, easily accessible data, businesses can enable faster and more accurate decision making, improve flexibility, and reduce their up-front infrastructure expenses. Importantly, by adopting cloud-based solutions, manufacturers can also open new sales channels – selling directly to overseas consumers rather than relying on local retailers.

“Cloud is vitally important in enabling manufacturers to transform how they do business; how they reach new markets, and gain efficiencies and effectiveness along the way,” says Miller. “By adding value through cloud-based technology, you can start to generate higher margins, while simultaneously delivering a better experience for your customers,” he adds.

2. 3D printing

Globally, 3D printing is set to revolutionise the way in which manufacturers produce goods, where they do so, and how quickly they can get products to market. According to an article by The Conversation, 3D printing can reduce development times by up to 96%, and can drive considerable cost savings as it uses lower amounts of material than traditional manufacturing methods. “While still in its infancy, the opportunity for 3D printing to completely revolutionise the manufacturing sector is enormous. Once we have identified the most effective and reliable types of material to go into 3D printers, manufacturers will be able to speed up production, at a significantly lower cost, and in all kinds of locations. This is a very exciting space, and one that many manufacturers should really be focused on,” says Miller.

3. The Internet of Things (IoT)

Already, IoT technology is making a dramatic impact in the manufacturing sector. According to a 2015 Global Trend Study by Tata Consultancy Services, IoT spend is predicted to increase by 20% to $103 million by 2018. With IoT technology, manufacturers can improve supply chain visibility around the clock – digitally monitoring the location and status of items as they make their way along the supply chain. The IoT can even be used on gauges or devices in production lines, to ensure they are performing at their optimal level; which means potential issues can be very quickly identified and resolved.

“The Internet of things really enables manufacturers to expedite their supply chains and manufacturing processes – whether they are manufacturing for food, health or equipment.,” says Miller.

4. Data

The advent of big data, and data analytics, is also set to play a huge role in the manufacturing sector. “Manufacturers already have huge amounts of data available within their operations. The challenge is tapping into the data, understanding what it means, and using it to drive improvements, identify efficiencies and rectify issues,” says Miller. “Ensuring data is usable should really be a priority for every manufacturing business right now. It has to be usable and meaningful in order to enhance human decision making,” he adds.

5. Collaboration and productivity tools

Everyday innovations in collaboration and workplace productivity also have the benefit to transform manufacturing businesses – enabling people to work together more effectively, identify exciting opportunities, make sharper decisions, and operate with a more global mindset. “The start of any disruption really comes from unlocking the ideas of the people in your business. If you currently operate a manufacturing plant where your staff are desk-bound and working within silos, how do you know if they have good ideas? The first step in engaging the future of manufacturing is to ensure that your people – those who know the real ins and outs of your business – are free to share ideas and innovate,” says Miller.

6. Robotics and drones

Often cited as one of the biggest innovations in the manufacturing sector, robotics and drones have considerable potential to help manufacturers keep an eye on their operations, quickly identify and escalate issues, and automate otherwise manual processes. “Robotics technology creates a huge opportunity to streamline processes and reduce costs. While it will take over lots of low-level manual tasks, it also frees up employees to add greater value in different ways. Right now, Australian manufacturers are competing with many markets around the world that have very low-cost labour. Robotics enable us to compete more effectively in a global context,” says Miller.

To learn more about opportunities for innovation in manufacturing, give the expert team at Brennan IT a call on 1300 500 000 or click here to find out more information.