The manufacturing industry is at a crossroads brought about by rapid advancements in edge computing, IoT, AI and private 5G. Manufacturers need to adapt just as rapidly by adopting these technologies – but doing so involves a lot more than just plugging in new machines.

That's because these technologies are not just add-ons. They are core components that are redefining how manufacturing floors operate. They enable real-time data analysis, predictive maintenance and greater operational visibility, leading to significant efficiency gains and cost reductions.

Addressing business challenges with technology

Before I delve into specific technologies, let's look at some of the business challenges that manufacturers face around the world.

One of the primary concerns is the complexity of supply chains. Beyond the actual production of goods, manufacturing organizations must also oversee an intricate network of suppliers, distributors and partners.

Making the supply chain more agile and resilient has become more relevant than ever, especially as more manufacturers target international expansion amid uncertainty and volatility related to geopolitical tensions and the aftereffects of the COVID-19 pandemic.

To succeed in this environment requires ongoing improvements in efficiency – in the execution of logistics, for example, or by converting facilities into smart factories – to counteract rising costs. The challenge is to elevate efficiency holistically, not just in specific parts of the manufacturing process, to enable broader benefits for the entire organization.

Don't forget the talent – and the environment

Technology-driven transformation in manufacturing also demands shifts in the workforce. The industry faces the dual challenge of attracting and retaining skilled talent while continually training employees to handle new technologies.

Upskilling and reskilling initiatives are therefore critical, both for administrative and managerial employees and those who are directly involved in production. Manufacturers have to invest in training programs that empower their workforce with the skills they need to operate advanced technologies and adapt to new processes.

An organization with a workforce that never stops learning will always have a competitive advantage.

And, as concerns about the climate crisis rise, manufacturers are also focusing on sustainability. Many regulatory requirements now include the need to decarbonize manufacturing operations, by reducing or eliminating emissions from manufacturing processes, and to optimize energy and water use.

Sustainable manufacturing is also imperative to long-term business viability, and technologies that improve energy efficiency and reduce waste contribute significantly to achieving this goal.

The advent of digital twins

So, how do manufacturers benefit from new technologies beyond the nuts and bolts? Working with an expert service provider is a reliable way of accessing the technology itself as well as the consulting capabilities that go with it, ensuring the technology is being used optimally to transform operations.

Take as an example digital twins, a significant technological advancement in manufacturing and many other industries. These virtual replicas of physical assets or systems allow manufacturers to simulate a range of scenarios and predict outcomes without risking their actual resources.

A service provider will use their deep understanding of the technological and industry-specific challenges involved to integrate this complex technology into a manufacturer's operations. The digital twin will be accurately modeled and fully optimized for the manufacturer's needs.

Additionally, the service provider can offer ongoing support and updates, helping the manufacturer to explore opportunities as they arise and maximizing their return on investment in the technology.

Hyperautomation and control towers

The same goes for hyperautomation, which involves the integration of AI, machine learning and automation technologies to streamline manufacturing processes. By interconnecting various elements of the manufacturing process, organizations can automate decision-making, improve productivity and reduce their operational costs.

Working with a service provider with industry-specific experience in AI, machine learning and robotics will ensure the implementation of the most suitable automation tools as part of a cohesive automation strategy that includes smoother integration with existing systems, training for staff and ongoing maintenance.

Control-towering – the management of supply-chain and production processes through a single, integrated platform – also works best with expert assistance, as it involves using advanced software and technologies to control and optimize operations across locations in real time.

Why we work with Microsoft

NTT DATA, in collaboration with Microsoft, is at the forefront of developing solutions that leverage these technologies as part of a holistic strategy to create smarter, more efficient production environments.

This collaborative approach is crucial in developing integrated solutions that address the multifaceted challenges of manufacturers. Our close relationship with Microsoft enables us to scale these solutions with proven technology, which is key for today's globalized manufacturers with their interconnected networks and supply chains.

Together, we have also identified more than 30 use cases for generative AI that relate to process improvements in four key areas of manufacturing: maintenance, engineering, quality and shop-floor management.

So, manufacturers now have end-to-end global expertise at their disposal – all the way from connectivity solutions, edge computing and cloud integrations to industry-specific technology frameworks and strategies that are easy to deploy, easy to maintain and easy to evolve.

What comes next?

The integration of AI and IoT in manufacturing will keep gathering pace, leading to even more sophisticated solutions like predictive analytics and intelligent automation. The forerunners in manufacturing will be those who can adapt swiftly to these disruptions now.

These manufacturers will also know – thanks to their partnerships with service providers like NTT DATA – that success depends on effective change management and on upskilling their employees while rethinking their business models.

Manufacturers that embrace this change holistically, considering both the technological and human aspects, will be ready to lead in the new era of manufacturing.

Read more about NTT DATA’s Connected Manufacturing initiatives to see how we connect people, places, machines and devices with innovative technologies.