Manufacturing is at the heart of any thriving economy, and the current economic environment pushes manufacturers to create a more digital and data-driven workforce. Manufacturing is a vital industry, and it’s no surprise that IT challenges continue to keep manufacturers vigilant. Manufacturing companies face a unique set of IT challenges.
From data migrations and cybersecurity breaches to workforce automation and machine learning, manufacturers’ challenges are vast and varied. However, competing as a manufacturer in an increasingly global market may be challenging. Adopting new technology is one strategy to gain an advantage and maintain market share. But what other strategies are there for these manufacturing IT challenges?
Challenge #1: Increasing Cybersecurity
With the increased usage of technical improvements, manufacturing business owners must be aware that cyberattackers mainly target their businesses. In 2021, the manufacturing industry experienced over 23% of total cyberattacks worldwide. The manufacturing sector experienced the highest share of cyberattacks — more than the finance and insurance sectors.
Furthermore, the Engineering Employers’ Federation (EEF) states that more than 45% of manufacturing businesses have experienced cybersecurity problems. The first step toward developing a cybersecurity solution is learning about commonly used cyberattacks in the manufacturing industry:
- Phishing attacks: This attack occurs via malicious email attachments or targets visiting fake websites, corrupting browser settings and using business data for financial gain. A virus discovers vulnerabilities in systems and sends information to attackers.
- Ransomware: This software encrypts files on a network and renders them inoperable until hackers’ demands are satisfied. These attackers may threaten to sell or disclose essential data if a ransom is not paid. Ransomware also renders the company’s network inoperable. Downtime places such a hardship on manufacturing organizations, making this strategy highly successful.
- Supply chain attacks: This attack damages one link in a company’s supply chain that can have massive repercussions. Hackers can access big corporations through weak points in their partners’ and suppliers’ systems. These attacks are double-edged swords. If a major firm is forced to shut down operations, any company it supplies is equally impacted within days of the first attack.
- IP theft: Manufacturing companies own intellectual property (IP) that distinguishes their products or services. As attackers discover new techniques to infiltrate a network undetected, the risks of possible IP theft increase. Hackers can silently harvest the required information and exit the system undiscovered. This might result in stolen or changed data.
The following techniques can help companies become more aware of potential hazards, identify possibly harmful conduct and avoid manufacturing IT cybersecurity problems:
- Educate all personnel about the dangers of cybercrime and how to identify possible threats.
- Implement password policies that require strong passwords and two-factor authentication where possible.
- Apply all updates and patches for relevant software as soon as they become available.
- Updated methods to manage backups of company data.
- Inform staff about the risks of accessing attachments from unknown sources.
Challenge #2: Integration of New Technologies
Smart manufacturing uses internet-connected technology to track the manufacturing process. This enables machines to interact with one another through the internet and collaborate to reduce mistakes and enhance plant workflow. Smart manufacturing also aids in the identification of better prospects for automated operations and the use of data analytics to improve and optimize the overall production process.
Some current technologies and solutions in the smart manufacturing environment include automation and robots, predictive analytics and artificial intelligence (AI). Manufacturers must be innovative in incorporating new technology to flourish in increasingly competitive markets. This is quite a challenge due to the rate at which technology continuously advances.
The Internet of Things (IoT) is another challenge on its own. Manufacturing hardware is increasingly being linked to the internet. However, these technologies are particularly prone to hackers. Networks must be configured to be functional, reliable and secure to keep IoT devices safe.
Here are a few strategies a company can implement to overcome these manufacturing IT problems:
- Research and testing: Strive to do thorough research and testing on new technologies that can improve manufacturing processes. Each company is different and requires specific AI software or robotics that suits its needs. Performing proper tests and evaluating the collaboration between these new technologies and existing operations are crucial to its successful implementation.
- Work with partners: To overcome the various challenges, working with experienced partners in the industry is best. They may provide valuable insights into successfully integrating new technologies, especially in the manufacturing industry.
- Provide employee training: Businesses must include their employees and make change management simple for them if they want to enhance the manufacturing process through new technologies. One approach is to provide a consolidated location for information that offers continuous employee training through videos, manuals and other training materials together with standard operating procedures (SOPs).
Challenge #3: Managing Data and Analytics
Manufacturers may find it challenging to analyze their data to develop insights. Today’s technology platforms constantly generate data on supply networks, manufacturing lines and employee performances. Massive volumes of data are available to manufacturers.
Forecasting product demand and inventory management are two major areas where data analysis may be beneficial. External factors influence product demand, such as currency exchange rates, current market trends and supply chain pricing. To maximize manufacturing, data from various sources must be readily available, accurately collected and stored and well managed.
Companies can start overcoming these IT challenges in manufacturing by following these strategies:
- Implement a DMS: Implementing a robust data management system (DMS) will help the manufacturer’s overall data accessibility and management. Manufacturers can define their infrastructure strategy, choose their data collection method and keep everything organized and optimized.
- Data analysis training: Training personnel on data analysis is a valuable skill that can benefit the firm. Data analytics is a science and an art. It’s a complex field where some businesses need to hire specialists. Providing data analysis training to employees may help them better understand the intricacies of data.
- Partnering with experts: Partnering with data experts helps manufacturers analyze, design, facilitate and complete duties associated with developing their data and information architecture. Experts provide reusable standards, rules, design patterns and settings to evolve data and information infrastructure across whole companies.
Challenge #4: Maintaining Uptime
This is an age-old manufacturing IT dilemma. Downtime, particularly unscheduled downtime, is detrimental to profits. The average hourly cost of server downtime worldwide was between $301,000 and $400,000 in 2020. There’s no doubt that unexpected downtime is expensive. It remains an ongoing and severe problem regardless of the precise cost per industry. IT system reliability is critical to avoiding downtime.
Try to implement a few other strategies to handle these manufacturing IT challenges:
- Perform routine maintenance: Maintain your systems regularly to keep them operating at their best. This involves scheduling scans and deploying security fixes in your IT infrastructure to address software vulnerabilities before hacks occur.
- Plan ahead: Prepare a plan and a timetable for system upgrades to keep hardware and software up to date.
- Test backups: Develop backup and restoration procedures with the appropriate resources and test them regularly to ensure flawless business continuity. Testing your backups can provide you peace of mind that you can restore your data in an emergency.
Challenge #5: Staying Competitive in a Rapidly Changing Market
Being in the manufacturing industry today requires companies to be agile to stay competitive in a rapidly changing market due to the growing rate of technological development. Manufacturers must be able to react to shifting market needs and technological advancements swiftly. This is challenging since conventional manufacturing lines were frequently highly tailored for specific applications.
Integrating older systems with cutting-edge applications and platforms to increase production quality and efficiency can be challenging. It can also be difficult to develop production processes that can adjust fast as data changes.
Some strategies to overcome these challenges include the following:
- Stay up-to-date: Staying updated with the most recent market trends and adopting new technology can provide a competitive advantage over the competition. A business owner who can successfully understand and apply the most recent technological advancements can stay ahead of the competition.
- Invest in research and development: To stay up-to-date with the latest news, trends and developments, manufacturers must invest in proper research and development of new technological advancements.
- Remain adaptable: From research and planning comes action. Manufacturers must remain agile and adaptable to changes in the industry — specifically if they can benefit from it. Change is unavoidable.
Outsource Your IT Support With Morefield
Position your manufacturing firm ahead of its competition and implement strategies that overcome these top five IT challenges. Businesses may only function with proper IT assistance, making the selection of IT service providers critical. Outsourcing your IT support may be more cost-effective than building an in-house IT team from scratch.
Morefield is a leading provider of corporate technology solutions. We assist enterprises in integrating and improving their technologies, streamlining their corporate technology with unmatched customer care. Our professionals will build and maintain every aspect of your network for integrated solutions that maximize productivity in your business.
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