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Making the Most of Barcodes, QR Codes, and NFC

The origins of barcode scanning in business For most, the word “barcode” conjures up images of stocked grocery aisles and packages marked with the now-ubiquitous Universal Product Code (UPC). While we’re all familiar with the the black vertical lines that make up a barcode, most of us take this simple invention for granted — not realizing the extent to which it’s revolutionized how businesses operate. Invented in the 1950s, barcode scanning was inspired by a Philadelphia grocery store’s desire to automatically record product information during checkout, a manual process up to that point. During the 1970s, with the introduction of the UPC, barcodes started appearing on the packages and store shelf labeling for most household goods. Over the last five decades, barcode scanning has revolutionized industries — improving overall efficiency, speeding up inventory management, automating tasks, and reducing opportunities for human error. While the one-dimensional barcode continues to be reliable and effective, its success inspired the development and adoption of more modern scanning systems like Quick Response (QR) codes and Near-field Communication (NFC), which help businesses streamline their processes even further. Let’s take a look at the role these systems play today in the manufacturing, utilities, and construction industries. “Lean manufacturing” with barcode scanning Many areas of manufacturing can be rife with inefficiencies, with excess labor and overly complex processes leading to bloated costs and reduced productivity. But barcode scanning has helped companies of all sizes pursue “lean manufacturing” — a way of doing more with less that was first popularized by Toyota in the 1930s. While adopting lean systems can be expensive (in terms of both cost and time), barcode scanning continues to be a simple, proven and cost-effective method for streamlining and automating myriad manufacturing and distribution processes. In manufacturing, barcodes are used for a variety of mission-critical tasks, including: Getting real-time tracking alerts and inventory status on parts and goods Quickly locating stock across multiple locations without having to roam warehouses Processing and managing orders with accuracy Replacing manual inventory-taking and data entry methods Eco-friendly QR code practices for utilities The success of the barcode led to the development of QR codes in the 1990s. Unlike one-dimensional barcodes, QR codes are coded in two directions (across and up/down), which means they can hold much more information, including text, URLs, images, videos, and documents. Because of their flexibility and storage, utility companies have been using them to not only improve the customer experience, but also to implement sustainable and eco-friendly business practices. For instance, in 2015, the United Kingdom’s Department of Energy and Climate Change introduced QR codes on residents’ energy bills. With a single QR code, each resident was able to perform all of the following by simply scanning the code with their smartphone: Monitor their gas and electricity consumption Review comparison charts of energy costs across different suppliers Easily switch suppliers to save money Utility companies in other regions have adopted similar practices, as well as using QR codes to replace paper documents that require mailing to provide a quick and easy way for customers to access billing and other information without having to print it or request hard copies. NFC on construction job sites NFC — a short-range wireless communication technology that became its own standard in 2003 — is also helping companies improve efficiency, especially in the field. Rooted in RFID (radio-frequency identification technology), NFC allows two-way communication between two electronic devices when they’re within 4 cm of each other. It enables familiar consumer experiences like contactless mobile payment systems and content-sharing on social media, as well as pushing offers and incentives to retail customers’ smartphones as they enter or move through a store. NFC has also been widely adopted to help companies with workforce, equipment and inventory identification, authentication, and tracking. In the construction industry, NFC tags and readers are used on busy job sites to streamline day-to-day operations. For instance, NFC readers are strategically placed around sites to automatically track workers’ arrival times and whereabouts across specific locations. Some companies even place NFC tags on hardhats to quickly access workers’ safety accreditations and to accurately track people during sudden site evacuations. Construction sites are also using NFC tags and readers to track and manage on-site equipment, including tracking materials and sections of large structures as they arrive on site. Choosing the right solution for your business Barcodes, QR codes, and NFC all have their individual advantages, and one shouldn’t be viewed as a replacement for another. Instead, all three are effective for streamlining processes, automating work, and reducing opportunities for human error — it’s just a matter of using them smartly, in ways that optimize for each of their strengths. And while their results can transform your business in powerful ways, they’re still quite affordable and easy to implement. So why not experiment with all three?

Tips for Inspiring Digital Change in Manufacturing

For a lot of manufacturing companies, transitioning into a digital ecosystem can feel like an insurmountable task. It doesn't have to be that way! You'll get there through careful planning and patience. Follow the proper steps and you'll see that adopting the latest and greatest technologies can be a smooth process. We're here to help you start on the right track. Keep reading for our tips: Don’t rush into digital transformation Often, companies invest in technologies before they fully understand their digital transformation needs and goals. As a result, they wind up spending money on technologies that don’t actually help improve their businesses. Prior to launching an initiative, administrators are strongly encouraged to form a digital transformation task force to study various parts of the organization and investigate how using digital solutions will improve workflows. Focus on solving problems  Digital transformation isn’t about buying technology for the sake of appearing current or trendy. Rather, it’s about making your business leaner and more agile — identifying areas of waste and working to change them. For this reason, digital transformation teams are encouraged to spend time consulting with division leaders, conducting workshops, and trying to understand the challenges workers face. Together, the team should explore different technologies and attempt to figure out which ones may be worth deploying as an experiment. If a project proves to be successful, that technology could then be deployed in other areas of the organization. This type of experiment is called a lighthouse project because it provides a signal for further digital transformation.  Build your own digital software Manufacturing software is notoriously expensive and not always customizable. These constraints often give companies buyer's remorse when they realize that the software doesn't rise to their needs. By using a no-code app platform, you can build apps that meet your exact specifications using your own data. In other words, your team can build the perfect tool for the job. With AppSheet, you can either create apps from scratch using a simple no-code approach which is easy enough for non-technical employees to master. Not only can you tailor the apps you create to your specific needs, but it also allows for centralization of data, and better communication between staff. Your IT department will love you, too. No-code platforms allow security options that you might not get in mass-produced software. Here's a list of AppSheet sample apps which you can copy and customize for your use cases within the manufacturing industry: Work Orders App: An app for requesting equipment repairs. Try the Work Orders app.  Loss Prevention and Report App: An app that floor supervisors can use to ensure all equipment is in proper working order. Try the Loss Prevention and Report app. Activity Based Costing App: An app for tracking production line activities. Try the Activity Based Costing app.  Employee Training App - For providing medical training materials to employees. Try the Employee Training app. These are only a few examples of what you can do with a no-code platform like AppSheet. You can start designing your own app, for free. We hope to hear from you! 

Create a Safer Manufacturing Environment

Manufacturing can be dangerous. Employees work in fast-paced environments with heavy machinery, dangerous materials, and crowded spaces. Facility managers must conduct due diligence to reduce accidents and maintain operational safety. Let's take a closer look at manufacturing safety. The top injuries in manufacturing are essentially caused by environmental and behavioral factors. Examples include coming into unexpected contact with objects, falling, exerting too much energy, repetitive motion, and touching harmful chemicals or substances, among other things.  All of these injuries can be reduced by using digital workplace apps. With that in mind, here are some examples of how apps can create a safer manufacturing environment.  Optimizing training  Training is critical to ensure worker safety and productivity. It’s also essential from a regulatory and compliance perspective.  To prevent accidents, manufacturing workers should be properly briefed about occupational hazards before conducting operations. Unfortunately, training and policies can often be rushed, disregarded, or lost in the mix of a busy workday. Apps can provide a perfect mechanism for supplementing training. For example, apps can be used to transmit important documentation and ongoing updates. Managers can request sign-offs and even schedule periodic reviews to make sure employees remain up to speed about safety issues.  Maintaining equipment  Communication is critical for avoiding accidents and keeping machinery running as designed. Machine operators and managers need to be diligent about scheduling maintenance and conducting safety checks — especially when working with machinery that’s prone to overheating or malfunctioning. Apps can be used to request maintenance or share notes about the performance of a machine or vehicle. Custom apps can include forms that enable workers to enter notes and data, and they can be used to share pictures or even video files.  Protecting workers  Some processes, such as working in extreme temperatures or reducing noise exposure, require special attention from managers to prevent harmful health effects. For example, some manufacturing companies limit shift hours to reduce worker hearing loss. Manufacturers can avoid these issues by creating apps designed to expedite advanced hazard control. This type of app would enable management to track and monitor risks like sun, cold, or loud noises. The data could then be fed directly into worker schedules to optimize staffing and ensure safety.  Sharing reports  Management needs to remain in the loop about what’s happening across all of work sites and factories. Company administrators need to have a system that enables them to report daily activities and details. They also need to be able to hold managers accountable for what happens during projects. Apps provide an easy way to stay on top of all safety reporting, making it possible for managers to assemble and share accident reports, safety reports, safety-related complaints, or even suggestions for improving worker safety. These reports can be delivered via email or SMS, ensuring administrators receive them in a timely manner.  Responding to emergencies  When manufacturing accidents happen, it’s important that managers know who to contact. Some companies are now building dedicated apps for emergency response. These apps enable workers to indicate family and medical contacts so managers know who to reach out to in the event of an emergency. Further, these apps let workers list common allergies and other health-related issues, making it easier for technicians to provide a medical response when needed. Ready to get started with custom apps? If so, we’ve got you covered. AppSheet offers a sample Inspection App that you can use to streamline equipment checks. You can also try building your own custom app. AppSheet’s no-code app platform works with both Sheets and Excel, as well as a variety of third-party cloud services. So no matter where your data lives, you can build custom apps to transform your manufacturing workflows — building a more efficient and more profitable company because of it.   Start using AppSheet today and find out how you can take your company to the next level by building custom tools designed specifically for your needs.

Using Apps to Improve Incident Reporting

It can happen when you least expect it: one minute everything is fine, and then a worker goes down with a sudden injury triggering an immediate response from management.    Managers in high-risk environments like utilities, construction, oil and gas, and manufacturing need to be ready to spring into action whenever emergencies arise. And part of this job involves knowing how to produce clean, professional, and accurate incident reports.  One way to improve incident reporting is to create dedicated reporting apps that include forms and fields employees can use to easily share data.  Read on to learn about the advantages to using digital incident reporting.  Establishing a formal process  Companies run into problems when employees lack clear guidelines for creating and escalating incident reports. For example, when an accident happens, a manager may overlook an important detail and take the wrong course of action. These snafus spur unnecessary complication.   By creating a digital incident reporting app, companies create official reporting protocol that offers managers detailed step-by-step instructions. This way, when injuries happen or incidents occur, there are no guessing games.  With the right app in place, managers will know exactly what to do and when they should do it. Scheduling interviews When an incident occurs, it’s necessary to interview employees who were directly involved and have first-hand knowledge so that management can accurately assess the information on hand. Apps can help here, too.  For example, an incident reporting app could contain an embedded scheduling assistant to coordinate follow-up interviews. Managers can track who they reach out to, as well as when and why. This type of information comes in handy when dealing with union or legal representatives and third-party auditors, among others.  Compiling evidence The more data that management can collect following an incident, the better. This is very important for both administrative and legal purposes.  An app can serve as a central repository for photos, interviews, documents, and more. The app becomes an easy, convenient, and secure way to track information as it flows in during the investigation process.  Submitting reports After an incident occurs, administrators must respond in a timely manner. There’s no room for dismissing, overlooking, or misplacing reports.  Incident reports can be easily shared with all relevant parties via SMS or email. Digital signature requests can also be added to ensure issues are followed up on.  Apps also lead to more accurate reporting. Traditional reports are submitted on paper forms and then entered manually into the computer. However, hand-written reports can be difficult to read and are easily misinterpreted. By eliminating the need for transcription, apps improve accuracy while reducing the time that’s needed to close investigations.  As you can see, digital reporting apps deliver a number of benefits to organizations like yours.  To learn more about how you can create custom apps for your organization using AppSheet, check this out.

A Beginner’s Guide to Digital Facility Management

Efficient facility management is critical in industrial environments where large teams of workers interact daily with complex, dangerous, and sensitive equipment.  Small mistakes can lead to massive industrial accidents, endangering lives and harming both facilities and local environments. For this reason, facility managers need access to modern solutions that provide visibility and control over daily operations. Many facility management teams are using digital solutions to improve the way they execute tasks and communicate.  Three technologies enabling digital facilities management  There are three major technologies that are transforming the way organizations approach facilities management: 1. The Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) Facility managers are increasingly using connected devices like cameras and sensors to record environmental data and respond more efficiently. For instance, a camera can be used to detect activity and adjust temperature and lighting controls. This functionality can save money and improve sustainability.  In addition, sensors can be used to collect data, triggering alerts that could lead to potential safety issues — like chemical leaks, sudden power spikes, and pressure changes in sensitive machinery.  2. Big data As IoT devices become more common in industrial environments, we can expect a huge influx of data. As data is processed and studied over time it can be used to make vital operational decisions related to power, sustainability, and performance. 3. Mobile apps Communication is critical for any facilities management team — which is why a growing number of facility managers are using apps to improve their operations. Apps are useful for assigning tasks and projects, tracking performance, sharing data, and compiling reports, among countless other tasks.  Up until recently, apps were very expensive to design and deploy. However, recent advancements in no-code development have made it possible to build apps quickly, efficiently, and cost-effectively.  Using apps for facilities management  Here are some of the top benefits that come with digital facilities management:  Task triage  Managing a large industrial facility can be a never-ending job, especially for teams that are short-staffed or spread out across multiple buildings. Projects can change by the hour, requiring rapid attention from workers. Managers need to quickly adjust employee workflows and communicate changes to workers.  Workflow apps make it easy for managers to assign tasks to team members. They also make it easier to close them out once the work is done, providing receipts to ensure they are read and acted on. Inventory management Inventory management is critical for managers, who need a constant supply of spare parts, equipment, and other similar items. Managers are now building apps to view, request, and replenish inventory supplies. Applications make it possible to prevent bottlenecks and delays, increasing productivity and boosting profitability along the way.  Employee scheduling  Managers need to carefully balance employee schedules, considering a range of factors like shift limitations, daily responsibilities, location, and worker availability. These functions are difficult to accomplish through manual data input.  Apps can be used to create flexible schedules, alerting workers when they are needed on a job site ahead of time and letting them know what they will be working on. These capabilities set proper expectations and increase alignment. To learn more about how you can design apps to streamline facilities management using AppSheet’s no-code platform, check this out. 

The Modern Approach to EAM

Utilities, gas, construction, and manufacturing providers are increasingly using custom apps to streamline enterprise asset management (EAM). This makes digital EAM a top technology to watch in 2020 and beyond. Enterprise asset management challenges any large industrial provider. The average company can have hundreds of thousands of assets scattered across multiple locations. These assets include human resources, machines, vehicles, wide area networking components, servers, and more. And each system plays a vital role in the ongoing stability and profitability of the organization. Using software to manage EAM Traditionally, most of these systems and machines operated independently, making it difficult to achieve effective enterprise asset management (EAM) goals. Today, though, more and more industrial providers are moving digital transformation initiatives forward, implementing cutting-edge solutions to oversee the sum of their assets. There are hurdles to the digitization of EAM, however. Off-the-shelf EAM software is very expensive with costs often exceeding $11,000 per user. EAM can be a costly investment for the budget-conscious organization, especially when considering all of the additional technological expenses facing companies today (e.g., data management, the cloud, computers, communications, insurance, and more). It’s possible, however, to build your own EAM apps using a no-code app platform — saving your company thousands of dollars while building a solution that matches your precise needs. The no-code approach to EAM Using a no-code app platform like AppSheet, it’s possible to build individual apps for specific EAM processes. For example, you could build apps to track HR processes, workflows, data management, inventory, and more by merging these functions into a centralized reporting app. Here are some of the benefits that come with using no-code EAM apps. Agile asset tracking One of the problems with out-of-the-box EAM platforms is that they lack the ability to enable you to easily create and track new and custom assets.  By using a no-code EAM platform, however, a company can create specific apps on an as-needed basis. For example, a manufacturing company may decide to start tracking IoT solutions. This could be easily accomplished by taking data from Sheets or Excel and building an app to provide ongoing expense reports.  Fewer errors  Human error remains a major challenge with EAM solutions, which still require physical data entry. It’s very common for data to be entered incorrectly, resulting in inaccurate reporting and untrustworthy results.  No-code EAM eliminates manual data entry by creating a system where information can be entered via digital fields and intuitive drop-down menus. This removes the need to manually transcribe data — increasing data integrity and helping your business make smarter decisions.  If a data value is entered incorrectly on a no-code platform, it’s far easier to detect and correct the mistake. No-code apps offer greater data transparency than traditional paper-based data entry systems. Authorized users can access, review, and update data from any device. Cloud-based management  A study by Software Advice found that 86 percent of EAM buyers prefer a cloud-based EAM solution. This statistic highlights the need for streamlined back-end management and affordable storage. No-code app platforms like AppSheet leverage the cloud to deliver powerful, SaaS-based building functionality. It’s a far more cost-effective approach to running an on-premise EAM solution or hiring developers to build one from scratch for you.  Learn more about AppSheet’s no-code platform.

7 Ways Digitization is Transforming the Manufacturing Industry

Early industrial automation systems, first deployed in the 1970’s, used integrated circuits — or microchips — to power miniature active and passive devices like transistors and capacitors. Today, most manufacturing companies are using automated manufacturing systems that integrate software and machinery, enabling computers to automatically control production.  Read on to learn some of the ways that digital transformation is impacting manufacturing. Artificial Intelligence (AI)  We hear a lot of scary stories about how AI will replace jobs. The flip side of fear around AI is that the technology should be a collaborative tool for workers to not only complete work more efficiently, but also to focus more on tasks they historically haven't had the time or resources to achieve. As the manufacturing industry seeks ways to automate workflows, increase productivity, and efficiency, companies are looking to AI. Through the adoption of AI machine which are able to perform complex tasks and, through repeated performance, learn better, more efficient practices over time in the field. AI combines a plethora of different methodologies, including deep learning, machine learning, neural networks, natural language processing, and more. Basically, AI is a lean, mean, learning machine, revolutionizing the ways workers engage with their work. Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) For the better part of the last decade, the IoT — a global network of connected, IP-enabled devices — has been steadily growing and advancing. In the manufacturing sector, there’s the IIoT, which specifically refers to intelligent devices and sensors that collect data from the manufacturing floor for use in AI, machine learning, and predictive analytics systems.  To give you a sense of the magnitude of this transformation, the IIoT market is expected to reach $124 billion by 2021. And by 2030, IIoT could add $14.2 trillion to the global economy. Open process automation Until now, the manufacturing industry has been using programmable logic controllers (PLCs) and distributed control systems (DCSs) for process automation. A PLC is a ruggedized digital computer used for controlling processes like assembly lines and robotic devices. DCSs, which typically interface with PLCs, are used to control operations of large plants using GUI screens. The main downside to these systems is that they are usually proprietary and, as a result, are difficult to maintain and update. In search for a better way, the manufacturing industry is starting to migrate to open process automation solutions, which are easier to use and more cost-effective to manage. Additive manufacturing Commonly referred to as 3D printing, additive manufacturing involves using computer-aided design (CAD) and object scanners to layer material and form geometric parts. 3D printing removes many of the costly and time-consuming elements of manufacturing, such as carving and shaping. As a result, companies can design products faster and more affordably than they could in the past. In this day and age, who has time to wait around for a replacement part to be processed and shipped out to your business? Additive manufacturing is putting the power in your hands to print what you need, when you need it.    One of the most exciting aspects of additive manufacturing is its potential to transform the space industry. Thanks to additive manufacturing, astronauts can print objects and assemble units in space without having to transport materials from earth. Additive manufacturing is also proving to be helpful for companies that have workers in remote, hard-to-reach areas. What’s more, additive manufacturing can reduce expensive shipping costs, and it can allow construction projects to be completed much faster. Asset management A manufacturing company depends entirely on the quality and availability of its operational resources. In the past, these assets were managed manually using staff members, paper, and spreadsheets — a system that opened the door for error, abuse, safety hazards, and system errors, among other pitfalls. In the spirit of digital transformation, the industry is moving toward asset performance management (APM). According to Gartner, APM “encompasses the capabilities of data capture, integration, visualization, and analytics tied together for the explicit purpose of improving the reliability and availability of physical assets.” In short, APM involves automating asset control, providing a streamlined way to manage and control everything from fleets to assembly lines to forklifts, and everything in between. Edge computing As manufacturing environments become more connected and cloud-based, companies are being forced to find new ways to move data. Transferring large amounts of data over long distances to a centralized server can lead to data bottlenecks, latency, and other problems. To solve these problems, manufacturing environments are moving data towards the “edge” of the network. An edge computing framework leverages distributed, open architectures to process select data locally — vastly improving performance. Through edge computing, manufacturing companies can reduce resource-intensive long-haul data transfers and latency. For example, imagine a sensor recording anomalies on a milk bottle assembly line. Instead of taking photographs of every single milk bottle, a sensor can instead be trained to identify broken or deformed items — transporting less information and reducing data bottlenecks along the way. Connected systems and devices The influx of connected systems and devices in manufacturing has increased the need for fast, scalable, and reliable networks. Many manufacturing facilities are integrating SD-WAN as a way to augment or replace their expiring multiprotocol packet layer switching (MPLS) networks. SD-WAN involves separating the networking hardware from the control plane, enabling multi-site manufacturing facilities to create a centralized virtual network that can be deployed and managed from a single location. In doing so, it’s possible to allocate network resources, control costs, improve security, and reduce downtime across a global private network. Conclusion Manufacturing is an incredibly complicated process that is made harder with out-of-date software. Thankfully, the industry is coming out of the dark and embracing the light. Through digitization, manufacturing is collaborating with artificial intelligence that not only automates processes, but also seeks to continually learn new ways of increasing productivity, efficiency, and safety in the workplace. We’d love to hear how you’re implementing digital solutions to your manufacturing business, and we’re always here to answer any questions you might have. Can’t wait to hear from you.

What Manufacturers Can Expect From Going Digital

We live in a time where technology is leading the way in the ever-changing ecosystem of major industries such as oil and gas, healthcare, construction, and of course, manufacturing. Today, so many companies are undergoing digital transformation, and manufacturers must modernize their operations in order to keep up with the competition. Automation of workflows, data recording, agile management, and cutting-edge technologies are all critical for success. These improvements save companies from obsolescence. But let's get down to the good stuff of digital transformation. Here are the benefits that manufacturers can expect after going digital: Cost reductions One of the top reasons why companies implement digital transformation is to identify wasteful processes and curb costs. Often, companies will discover areas of waste that they weren’t previously aware of thanks to the various data-driven tracking mechanisms digitization offers. As a result, digital transformation can result in a leaner and tighter manufacturing environment. A manufacturing company may implement statistical process control to identify faulty products on an assembly line. Using sensors and cameras, it’s possible to disseminate individual anomalies from large-scale errors that could lead to recalls once products are shipped to distributors. Improved accountability Manufacturing facilities are fast-paced environments where hundreds of workers may collaborate on a single project. Aerospace engineering, for instance, requires impeccable communication and strong accountability. Tasks must be sequentially signed-off on and completed in order to ensure safety and compliance. This is something that’s easy to overlook when using paper and spreadsheet management systems — especially if they are all operating across disparate channels. In the past, it was easy to lose paper-based spreadsheets and field reports. A worker could forget or misplace important data while navigating within or between warehouses; someone’s handwriting might be illegible. There are a variety of issues that can arise when you’re allowing so much variance in how data is tracked within your company. To increase efficiency, many companies are now using digital apps to accelerate approvals, improve accountability, and ensure regulatory compliance. During automobile assembly, certain processes need to be checked at various stages of production. For example, manufacturers need to make sure lights and horns are installed correctly. By the time a car gets to the final inspection process, all systems should be signed off on by an authorized technician. By using an app, a team can see who inspected a certain process, when it was approved, and by who. Increased visibility Productivity can be difficult to track in a manufacturing facility. Managers might have reduced visibility into what happens on a production floor, on the road, or in a warehouse, for example. Using new technologies — like wearables, apps, cameras, and sensors — can give managers a centralized view of what’s happening across all of their facilities and teams. These technologies enable autonomy while making it possible to keep managers informed about progress. They also keep workers engaged and focused on their jobs. Consider this: According to IDC, about 40 percent of technology spend across all industries will be put toward digital transformation this year. Suffice it to say digital transformation is something that almost every company is taking part in. Hard work, planning, and communication Now is the time to form a sound digital transformation plan and become an early adopter of next-generation technologies. It’s better to act now than to fall behind as competitors continue to move digital transformation initiatives forward. There is a massive digital divide emerging. We expect this will get even larger in the years to come. So, what does it take to turn your company into a digital-first organization? Hard work, planning, communication, and teamwork are all necessary to advance digital transformation projects beyond their pilot phase. Businesses often underestimate the process and wind up abandoning their digital transformation projects before they reach maturity and see the true fruits of their labor. But we promise that taking the time to implement these digital assets into your business will not only make your work easier, but it will also give you more power to make your ambitions for your company become reality.  

A Guide to Inventory Control for Manufacturing

In a recent post, we dug into Industry 4.0 and how manufacturing leaders can leverage their workers to inspire digital transformation in their organizations. Now, let’s explore how the principles behind Industry 4.0 are already contributing to one central aspect of manufacturing: inventory control. In the simplest terms, inventory control in manufacturing maintains the equilibrium of parts, equipment, and raw materials which go into the production of final products. Effective inventory control reduces manufacturing carrying costs, eliminates waste and delays, and increases worker and plant productivity. The practice also extends to the transportation of materials and final products between vendors, warehouse, and final customers. Clearly, inventory control makes up the nuts and bolts of manufacturing. Considering the vast number of moving parts and processes involved, precise inventory control requires superhuman attention to detail. Enter smart technology. Digital transformation and inventory control Digital transformation has already impacted key areas of manufacturing inventory management. Let’s explore how technology can help professionals optimize and control three central types of manufacturing inventory: direct materials, works-in-progress, and finished goods. Direct materials Also known as raw materials, direct materials are everything that goes into the manufacturing of a product. A textile manufacturer, for example, uses wool, cotton, or hemp fibers to produce a final product. Before computers, manufacturers relied on periodic inventory methods, which required workers to track materials by hand. Needless to say, this approach was error-prone and time-consuming. Nowadays, perpetual inventory tracking systems handle this work on a — you guessed it — perpetual basis. Inventory tracking apps and software integrate with barcode and optical character recognition (OCR) scanners (often available through a field worker’s mobile phone), cloud databases, and data visualization to track raw materials in real-time. This way, managers and workers alike can always know exact inventory levels on hand, information that’s invaluable when it comes to order planning, maintenance, budgeting, and revenue projections. Copy and customize AppSheet’s Manufacturing Inventory sample app which tracks raw materials and auto-calculates inventory levels to reflect sales and production data. Works-in-progress There are numerous points in any manufacturing process where a product remains incomplete. The tracking of these work-in-progress assets is crucial for successful manufacturing inventory control. Aside from keeping track of a company’s physical assets and capital at a given moment, work-in-progress inventory control provides valuable information on the efficacy of processes and managers. Use inventory control software that's compatible with barcode scanners to record work-in-progress inventory over time. The accumulated data can be used for cost-benefit analyses, workforce optimization, and people management. Try out AppSheet’s barcode scanning feature for yourself with our Scan and Search sample app. Finished goods Final goods and products are ready for sale or distribution, but still count as inventory to the manufacturing company. Tons of nuance applies to finished good inventory. Various considerations apply to inventory that’s yet to be sold to customers, as opposed to inventory that’s already been sold. For example, some customers only own goods once they have been delivered. Other goods are owned as soon as they leave the manufacturer’s loading dock. It’s unwise — or even impossible — to track finished goods inventory without the help of dynamic delivery tracking. Explore and customize AppSheet’s Package Delivery Management app to fit your inventory needs. Conclusion All the factors that go into manufacturing inventory control can make a person’s head spin. In addition, no two manufacturing companies have the same processes or use the same materials. Thankfully, technology is rising to meet these complexities. This push includes the resounding progress in the arena of apps in the workplace, which are both customizable and powerful. Let us know your questions and strategies around inventory control in the comments. We’re excited to hear from you.

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