RPA has many advantages, but its application to the manufacturing sector is one not covered enough. We explore several critical use cases of RPA for manufacturers.
By Mark Johnston.
Robotic Process Automation (RPA) is not often associated with industrial settings; however, its implementation holds significant benefits to manufacturers. While the industrial sector is often associated with heavy machinery, enormous robots, and so on, it – in many cases – is also associated with legacy infrastructure.
The industrial sector is not known for embracing change, but with the onslaught of new regulations, a talent crunch, and a changing supply chain, there might be no choice. Digital transformation is here, and it’s impacting not just resource management and cost reduction but the facilitation of enhanced customer service to clients.
Besides, supplier communication is also changing, transforming into a quick and seamless process. According to professional services firm Deloitte, 92 percent of business leaders desire a more agile workforce, which facilitates a closer relationship with customers, improved speed of innovation, and high employee engagement.
These results extend to the industrial environment, with technologies such as RPA significantly boosting back-office processes enabling this agile vision. Often bogged down by complexity, RPA handles such processes – identifying and improving deficiencies – while reinforcing the supply chain procedures as well as a range of repetitive tasks.
Like any automation, RPA brings change, alleviating often mundane and repetitive jobs, freeing up human operators for higher-order tasks, often requiring creativity and complex thought. Often this results in job losses; however, the human impact of automation through proper planning can be reduced, with many employees often retrained and assigned to another function.
Those in charge should bear this in mind, and consider the human impact, with plans and objectives communicated clearly to employees. Through a reduction in rework time, as well as manual errors, and an increase in efficiency, employees can often be retrained and assigned new roles within an organisation.
Through the collection of real-time data, RPA can aid an organisation in real-time monitoring and analytics, improvement in optimisation workflows and a reduction in time, money, and wastage. These results are made possible through a reduction in inefficiencies often associated with back-office processes.
The advantages of RPA for the manufacturing sector extends beyond enhanced real-time process monitoring and analytics through improved communications enabled by digitisation. Improved regulatory compliance further enhances the appeal of RPA, especially in today’s climate, as well as the technology’s ability to act as a bridge between paper and digital environments.
Enterprise Resource Planning
Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) controls much of today’s manufacturing process, which RPA looks set on transforming through automation. Traditionally, the management of ERP systems can be time-consuming and cumbersome, which rely on platforms like Oracle, SAP, and so on to operate.
By using RPA tools, many of these cumbersome processes are automated, enabling time and money savings. These tools work through ERP, Customer Relationship Management (CRM), and Supply Chain Management (SCM) systems’ presentation layers, maintaining business rules and audit trails in the process, enhancing security and traceability.
Through streamlining accounts, a reduction in manual labour is possible, resulting in not just error reduction but time savings, and an increase in daily profits. Integrating RPA with systems such as SAP enables organisations to keep track of remittance advice information with invoice tracking, avoiding any missteps.
An often-cited challenge for the accounts team is receiving invoices in a non-standard format. This scenario often means that the invoice needs to be manually entered into the ERP system. This process is time-consuming, complicated, and susceptible to human error.
Through the application of RPA, the details of a scanned invoice enter the system through Optical Character Recognition (OCR) technology, which subsequently checks for accuracy through a rules-based approach and pre-approved workflows.
Bill of Materials
The Bill of Materials (BOM) list contains a list of all the materials needed to manufacture a product. The BOM informs employees on what, how and where to purchase the needed materials. It also contains detailed assembly instructions.
As such, the BOM must be accurate; otherwise, the final product will not be the intended product. For one, a different material than the one expected results in errors in cost calculations as well as quality assurance issues and shipment delays.
The importance of BOM to the manufacturer highlights an ideal use case for RPA to maintain control of accuracy and reduce the likelihood of human error into the system.
Another area that could greatly benefit from RPA is invoice processing and purpose order management. The process of checking and cross-checking invoices can be extremely time-consuming before seeking approval.
RPA aids in the cross-checking of invoices against the purpose order list, before subsequently forwarding on the invoice for approval before marking the order as complete.
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