Getting started with intelligent automation in manufacturing

Posted on 5 Jul 2022 by The Manufacturer
Partner Content

In the past year, the challenges faced by manufacturing industries have intensified, with supply chains strained to breaking point, material shortages and fluctuating demand. It means that pinpointing areas of the business to drive productivity, deliver on time and reduce costs is now crucial for manufacturers’ success. 

We know you’re expecting us to talk about how digitally transforming with intelligent automation can solve all your challenges. But since your industry pioneered the use of physical robotics on the factory floor, you are undoubtedly aware of the possibilities and the limitations of physical automation.  

In fact, the intelligent automation ecosystem provided by Blue Prism is analogous with many TAP solutions you may already be using. And if you are in the process of creating a digital supply chain to make a step change in business performance, then automation will undoubtedly help you on your way.

The next question to ask is how to prepare for success with automation? How do you make it work? And how do you gain long term success by scaling automation across the whole enterprise? 

That’s where we come in. In this eBook, we set out the principles of a successful and scalable automation program, one that’ll help you towards overcoming your business challenges.   

We’ve divided the guide into two parts to take you through the process: How to prepare and how to get started.  

Part One: How to Prepare for Intelligent Automation

First of all, we’ll look at the specific ways in which we can help you prepare for success with your automation program. When it’s done in the right way, intelligent automation can transform the way your business works from the factory floor right through to the supply chain and beyond. 

But it’s essential that you think strategically about automation from the start, rather than go for a piecemeal approach that may not deliver return on investment over the longer term. One of the cornerstones of our approach to automation is our tried and tested Robotic Operating Model (ROM). 

In brief, the seven foundations of the ROM are as follows: 

  1. Vision – Create a vision for your digital workforce based on organisational strategy and goals that supports long-term intelligent automation success
  2. Organisation – Define the organisational design that best supports delivery of your RPA capability and aligns with your corporate strategy and culture
  3. Governance and Pipeline – Assess and select processes to build a sustainable automation pipeline and implement governance for a controlled and secured digital workforce
  4. Delivery Methodology – Define the optimal delivery approach and embed policies for rapid and efficient automation in a structured, controlled, and repeatable manner
  5. Service Model – Support operational processes while defining the management, reporting, scheduling, and referral handling processes for business as usual
  6. People – Build teams with the appropriate roles and skills to help build and run a successful digital workforce
  7. Technology – Define a highly scalable technical architecture and the associated growth strategies to generate maximum business benefit.

Let’s delve into the seven foundations further to see how it can set your automation program up for long-term success. 

  1. Vision 

Before beginning your automation program, you need to align it with your business goals and strategy. How will automation fit in with the aims and objectives you have for your organisation? Work out where you want to use automation on its own, where you want to augment people with digital workers, and where you want to use just people. This will get you on your way to building a unified workforce of digital workers and people, with each handling the processes that are most suited to their capabilities. 

  1. Organisation 

This is where you can build a business case for automation, which includes its purpose, how people and automation will work together, the options for procurement and the cost of doing nothing and not investing in automation. It should also include which deployment option you’ll take in terms of inhouse or outsourced teams, how automation will drive strategic objectives and its long term value, including soft benefits and ROI. 

A sample business case is made up of the following elements: 

  • Introduction 
  • Case for Change  
  • Economic Case 
  • Main Options 
  • Recommended Options 
  • Sources and Assumptions 
  • Economic Case 
  • Critical Success Factors 
  • Main Options  
  • Recommended Option 
  • Commercial Case 
  • Financial Case 
  • Management Case 
  1. Governance and Pipeline 

Once your business case is drawn up and approved, the next stage is to consider different approaches to identifying which specific processes to put into a pipeline for automation. In this way, you can take a top-down view of all of the inter-connected processes in your organisation and decide which should be prioritised. 

There are two ways that we can help an organisation discover processes. The first involves manual discovery and the delivery of a Process Definition Document (PDD). Manual discovery relies upon interviews with subject matter experts in the business, who explain the different steps they take and how a process is performed. 

The other option is Process Intelligence, which uses task mining, process mining and business intelligence-like analytics. Process Intelligence is integrated into the Blue Prism Platform and uses data and agents on your team’s computers to analyse and model processes in real-time. 

Process Intelligence enables the rapid identification of automation candidates, faster time to automation, and continuous monitoring to flag exceptions and deviations. This helps you discover more processes, including variations and insight into how processes actually work to accelerate digital transformation. It also helps avoid insights that might be missed during manual discovery or something that was overlooked by the SME being interviewed 

  1. Delivery Methodology

The delivery methodology creates a foundation for continued success and ensures that implementations for the first handful of processes achieve their objectives. It enables business processes to be automated in a structured, controlled and repeatable manner, by allowing teams to create re-usable, resilient and scalable assets that reduce delivery effort and long term service costs. 

The approach taken is as follows: 

  • Define: examine the AS IS manual process and define the scope of the TO BE automation 
  • Design: propose a TO BE solution designed to meet the client’s requirements 
  • Build: make the design a reality 
  • Test: the delivery team checks the solution they will be presenting to the client 
  • User Acceptance Testing: the client checks that the automation works as expected 
  • Deploy: go live and run the automation as part of business as usual (BAU) activities 
  1. Service Model 

It’s essential to have effective steps in place to support and manage your intelligent automation platform, and this is typically split into BAU support, Operational Support and IT support. Some of this will be provided by your current support providers, but for the automation platform we are here to help you every step of the way. 

We provide a committed support team that will engage with you to ensure the success of the deployment of intelligent automation. If you have a preferred partner for IT support, then we advise on what you should have included in your service model. 

The IT platform will be required to support the Blue Prism processes delivered by the incumbent IT department or partner. Policy here aligns with your current corporate strategy, and makes it clear that support now relates to digital workers: if a digital worker cannot work, then the contingency plan will be invoked. 

  1. People 

We advise organisations to build a capability within their business specifically for automation, to ensure that projects can scale effectively. There are two options that organisations typically take, federated and centralised.  

The centralised model has a central group dedicated to automation that controls the automation program and searches for opportunities from a central point, known as a Centre of Excellence (CoE). 

The federated model means that the team sits within departments or functions of the business. While the team is distributed across different areas a central team control standards, best practices and strategy. 

A typical CoE within a manufacturing company includes: 

  • Head of Automation: manages the digital workforce and owns the RPA vision and delivery methodology  
  • Operating Model Architect: defines and implements an optimal approach to process automations across the organisation to maximise benefits, replication and scalability 
  • Process Analyst: captures detailed requirements, designs scalable automated solutions, documents process definitions, and supports testing as needed 
  • Developer: responsible for developing and delivering automated processes and objects using core workflow design principles 
  • Technical Architect: responsible for securely integrating automated solutions into existing architectures; works closely with architects, lead developers and other technical team members 
  • Progress Controller: manages the day-to-day function of automated processes across the operational environment, including investigating and flagging any issues in the production process 
  1. Technology 

Before implementing an automation platform it’s important to audit current systems and ask the following questions:  

  • What systems do we already have in place? 
  • What limitations are we under because of legacy tools or systems? 
  • Where can automation help with these systems? 

Another element to consider is platform scalability. As mentioned earlier, it’s essential to pick a platform that can scale right across your organisation, and for that you need an enterprise automation platform. Such platforms typically have integrated technologies that allow for effective management, security, scalability and intelligence built in from the start. 

Part Two: How to get started with Intelligent Automation

In this section, we’ll show you our approach to enterprise automation and some areas that will help you get started in your manufacturing organisation. 

Three waves of automation 

We’re here to help you get started on the path to success with automation. To Illustrate how you can achieve this, we talk about intelligent automation in terms of three waves of value. For many of our customers, this simple concept has helped gain both rapid ROI and plans for long term value. 

Let’s look at each what wave means. 

Wave 1 – Efficiency and Productivity 

  • Keep it simple to start with  
  • Look for short-term easy wins that drive quick value 
  • Build on a solid foundation of quick wins to get your ROI 

Wave 2 – Business Performance  

  • After you’ve got some short term wins under your belt 
  • Turn your attention to business performance KPIs 
  • Think about what benefits you’re looking for and desired business outcomes 
  • Find high value processes within departments and look how they could translate across the organisation  

Wave 3 – Business Transformation  

  • Now you’ve addressed business performance and efficiency in the first two waves 
  • Think business wide transformation 
  • Whether you’ve thought about introducing a new business model, way of working or service, understand how intelligent automation can help you deliver it  

Choose some areas to get started with intelligent automation, including digitised operations, the supply chain and the back office. 

Digitising Operations  

Customer Service and Support  

Even in the B2B-dominated world of manufacturing, customers increasingly expect service levels that are more akin to their experiences as consumers interacting with e-commerce retailers. They want to be able to track deliveries, have access to order histories and the ability to make repeat purchases, and be able to check warranties and maintenance records.  

They want to do this in real-time without necessarily having to speak to customer service agents. Overall, customer experience can be improved through efficient purchase order processing, responsive customer service and enhanced quality assurance. 

Customer Example: An example of how intelligent automation can help with customer service is our customer Sysco, the largest distributor of food and food-related products in the world. They embedded intelligent automation into their distribution network to help better serve their 600,000 clients. This network was placed under huge strain when the pandemic disrupted the world’s economy, so Sysco responded by expanding its automation efforts to more than 60 digital workers. This resulted in 6.2 million transactions being processed and returning more than 250,000 work hours to the business. 

Transforming SAP/ERP  

Modern manufacturers use ERP systems like SAP to support planning and managing of operations within their business. But due to the myriad areas that ERP systems support, they are often complex and costly to manage manually. They can also be difficult to adapt to the highly digitised world that manufacturers now occupy.  

To simplify management and increase efficiency, manufacturing organisations are turning to automation as a solution, which means digital workers can take on the heavy lifting without firms having to replace core ERP systems.  

Customer Example: AGCO, is a leading global manufacturer of farm equipment, including brands such as Massey Ferguson. As with many users of large ERP systems, AGCO found that journaling was tying up a significant amount of its human workers’ time. It needed a smarter way to complete its journaling, reducing its overtime costs, but without jeopardising the accuracy of its systems. Today, journaling is facilitated by multiple Blue Prism digital workers, who are “managed” by another digital worker that schedules and oversees the rest of the digital team. 

Creating Digital Supply Chains  

Supply Chain Demand Planning 

Predicting demand of goods and materials across multiple geographies in the supply chain requires effective digital integration and connections. Automation breaks down supply chain silos and provides insight, so goods and materials are ready where they’re required. Tasks completed as part of inventory management, such as manually checking stock levels and highlighting shortages, are great candidates for automation. As long as components, materials or finished goods are accurately recorded in an inventory management system, digital workers can quickly and accurately check what is in stock and what needs to be replenished to fulfil orders in the near future. 

Customer Example: A leading supplier of steel and metals, Norsk Stål, showed what can be achieved with RPA and intelligent automation in supply chain demand planning. Across their plants, a team optimises how to effectively manufacture steel products to meet customer deadlines — and to minimise waste. Each day, production planners provide a digital worker with an estimate of the maximum workload for the plants. The digital worker then gets the approved orders for steel products in their ERP, calculates the optimal production, and sets up a manufacturing plan for the plant before the morning shift starts. 

Improving Back Office Processes 

Manufacturers can digitise many back office processes, from finance and accounting to HR to inventory management, while unlocking big data to ensure better machine utilisation, faster throughput and improved tracking of inventory and logistics. Even simple processes such as account information changes can be automated and transformed into self-service facilities, making life easier for customers and saving valuable time and resources. 

On-demand quote automation  

Intelligent automation enables manufacturers to provide on-demand quotes automatically, minimising delays and improving customer experience. 

Customer Example:  AGCO used intelligent automation to handle its critical quotation process for revenue generation. It was previously taking up a huge amount of time of staff to complete each quote. AGCO wanted to optimise the process, giving its staff more time to focus on negotiating better contracts. Now, when a request for a quotation is received, a digital worker reads the email, retrieves data, updates systems, and sends the quote. This saved thousands of hours, giving time back to staff to focus on more valuable tasks. 

Take the first step with us

Now that you understand more about where to get started with automation, we hope you can see how Blue Prism is the ideal partner to support you through every step to success.  

Whether you are ready to start now, or are currently looking at all your options, we’d love to explore how we can help you take your first steps forward. Get in touch with us today and find out how you can achieve more with intelligent automation. 

Get In Touch here.