Major changes influenced the way job shops operate in various industries in the manufacturing sector over the last several years, and will continue to do so. The advent of new technologies such as mobile devices, data analytics for forecasting and adjusting business, more advanced robotics and unique fabrication methods can and will enable small businesses to better compete against larger companies with an advanced infrastructure. These advances can also encourage shops to adjust their operation models to attract more clients and sales over the long term such as make-to-order. With more interesting developments in place, job shops should be on the lookout for a few key trends:

A completely digital supply chain
While the digitization of operations is a continuing process, it’s now reaching a point of being mainstream. While small businesses in the past few years had a grace period of maintaining some level of paper-based operations at shop floor, warehouse or back office, it’s no longer acceptable for even the smallest job shop to continue using paper receipts for work orders and tax forms. An all-digital supply chain is now possible, according to logistics firm Cerasis. This helps minimize the room for error and increases efficiency and productivity alongside saving money. While the initial investment in training, resources and money is steep, the loss of competitive edge is now even steeper.

3-D printing gets more affordable
In recent years, job shops saw additive manufacturing as a novelty: While the technology seemed applicable to what they did, the cost of using a 3-D printer was more than they could bear. This was especially the case when bringing metals into the picture or very precise jobs. In the latter, even the best scans and resulting jobs at the basic level required some machining. However, 3-D printers with much higher resolutions are now more affordable to small shops. Moreover, scanner resolution is now reaching levels of precision that make machining no longer necessary. While mass fabrication remains a far away ideal, many businesses will find that including a 3-D printer will enable faster prototyping, along with the opportunity to create a make-to-order portion of the operation for less profitable parts and materials. Additionally, Manufacturing Talk Radio noted that more technological advances will make things even better for shops.

Predictive analytics for some, artificial intelligence for others
In the back office, there’s increased need for a better grasp of big picture. Thankfully, inexpensive analytics platforms are now available that gather data on the shop floor, in the warehouse and through customer transactions quickly and efficiently. From there, this information can more accurately assess the state of the business in many ways; predicting what is to happen in the immediate and far future. Such predictive analytics can help shape supply orders for the next several months, determine which types of customers to pursue in the immediate term and even predict when a machine is likely to fail. All of these factors can help improve productivity overall by minimizing downtime and better meeting customer needs before they even consider them. Current developments in artificial intelligence technology may take this a step further by putting such roles into a computer’s hands, but it remains uncertain whether a fabricator could afford such a system.

Augmented reality enables better inventory management and maintenance
A few years ago, augmented reality services like Google Glasses came out to much fanfare and hype, only to fizzle for various reasons – the primary issue being price – shortly afterward. However, the concept itself isn’t without promise. This year, the price of the wearable hardware associated with these concepts will likely reach a more reasonable level. This will present opportunities in inventory management, allowing for hands-free barcode scanning and data collection. It will also enable faster response to operations and processes on the shop floor.

Job shops interested in making their operations make-to-order should learn about the Features and Benefits of Microsoft Dynamics NAV for Job Shops today.

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