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Nearly half of Asia-Pacific manufacturers will have fully connected factories by 2022

Study finds that thinner margins and the desire for faster and higher quality production has driven manufacturers to modernise their operations through digital technology

Some 46% of manufacturers in the Asia-Pacific (APAC) expect to support a fully connected factory by 2022, nearly triple what it is today, according to a study by Zebra Technologies.

Driven by the increasing expectations of faster and higher-quality production, along with tight margins, manufacturers are embarking on the process of becoming digital businesses. This is achieved through the use of digital technologies to change their business models to provide new revenue and value-producing opportunities.

The digital technologies used by manufacturers include a combination of radio frequency identification (RFID), wearables, automated systems and other emerging technologies to monitor factory processes to provide information to support decision making.

APAC manufacturers are predicted to lead the way globally, with 77% of respondents expecting to collect data from production, supply chain, and workers by 2020, compared with 46% doing so today, according to findings in Zebra’s 2017 Manufacturing vision study.

“What surprised us was where the manufacturers expect to be in five years’ time. Many are embarking on digital transformations and are accelerating faster than we thought,” said Jason Low, APAC lead for asset and identification tracking at Zebra Technologies.

Manufacturers expect to expand the level of technology used between 2017 and 2022. By then, 72% will use mobile technology, 65% wearable technology, 51% location tracking, and 51% voice technology.

In addition, some 42% of manufacturers expect investments in visibility technology to spur growth, with around half of them expecting to implement real-time location systems (RTLS) and RFID technologies.

The study also found a shift in mindset from a focus on labour saving, reduction of overheads and supply costs to a quality-minded philosophy, with 55% of manufacturers stating that supplier quality as an issue.

In line with this drive for quality is the intention to increase the number of check points in the manufacturing process. By 2022, 55% of those surveyed plan to increase their tracking with over 33% plan to adopting real-time monitoring.

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Debashis Tarafdar, research director at Gartner, agreed that digitalisation has emerged as a key trend in APAC in 2017.

Tarafdar gave the example of Haier, a manufacturer of consumer electronics and home appliances. The company has established an interconnected factory where customers can customise the colour, size, functionality and shape of their appliances, which means a shift from a model of mass production to mass individualisation.

In addition, the resulting appliance is internet of things (IoT)-enabled, connecting consumers and their appliance to the internet to allow downloadable cooking apps and to share recipes.

However, challenges to becoming fully connected factories remain, especially for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), said Brandon Lee, chairman for the Singapore Manufacturing Federation’s Smart Automation Industry Group.

“Many multinational companies have embarked on digitalisation and have dedicated digitalisation teams and roadmaps, but many SMEs still need a lot of help and don’t understand how to bring their systems to the next level.”

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