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The first mention of agile manufacturing was in 1991, at the Agility forum in the US. Starting out as an aspiration, that was impossible to realise, over the years, developments in the global economy and cloud technology have slowly turned this concept into achievable milestones for manufacturing companies. Thanks to integrated systems and data, companies can finally disrupt their markets through smarter processes and connected supply chains. Not all companies are there yet, but the cost barrier to entry is decreasing all the time.
The traditional, rigid manufacturing process
Traditionally, products have a long incubation period from idea to finished SKU.
Treating products in isolation, there is design, detailing, materials planning, testing, assembly line configuration & build and fulfilment. Letting customers loose on your product adds the complexities of customisation, quotes, order validation, shipping, installation and support.
Typically, there are several systems in play – CRM, AutoCad / Design, ERP, various machinery and finance – making a complex systems landscape. Getting these discrete systems to talk to each other, working through the issues of master data management, orchestration and where to hold the business logic so that automation and validation is achieved at all points of the process is complex, especially when flexibility is required to support the evolution of product lines and business priorities. The benefits of getting this right though are enormous – from accelerating product to market to reduced operational overheads and wastage.
Streamlining manufacturing processes
To achieve process automation, businesses must address two aspects: the technical stack – to connect the data, systems and departments – and business processes, to correctly manage a project from start to finish.
For optimal performance, a company needs to plan and develop both aspects in conjunction: It is not enough to connect systems together but carry on with the same business practices, and a new process without the technical infrastructure will not stand the test of time. Even when developed in conjunction, poor business insights and a lack of understanding of how a company wants to work or could work can lead to an inefficient system with poor adoption.
Implementing this vision is often a source of pain for companies. At VRP, we expertly marry Salesforce and its native, configurable process builder and lightning flows with integration middleware technology, such as Mulesoft, Jitterbit or Dell Boomi to allow flexible business orchestration between systems.
Here’s an example of how one of our clients is successfully navigating these issues and bringing to market a streamlined, customer-centric manufacturing process.
An example of agile manufacturing through Salesforce
Our client, a global leader in building materials, insulation products and building envelope solutions, has connected its CRM, ERP and other systems in a phased approach to realise incremental and achievable benefits, while keeping sight of the end vision and utopia.
The first step of the journey was to enable straight-through processing of designs into quotes, validated orders and fulfilment instructions. Using Jitterbit, cloud-based middleware, VRP integrated the design system Bendex3d to the customer master in SAP and then through to the fulfilment systems. All the product and order validation logic was configured via business orchestration in the middleware. While this provides immediate benefits through delivering efficiencies and reducing manual processing and errors, it is only the beginning of the journey.
The full vision will be to enable customer self-service quotes by leveraging the business logic within Salesforce and utilising Experience Cloud and CPQ. Along with these customer-facing features, we’re also envisioning a new streamlined process to turn designs to delivery. When building designers use AutoCAD and standardised building information model files (BIMs), it will be possible to submit, read and parse designs directly into viable quotes and automate the entire process from drawing board to product delivery.
Each phase takes this global leader a step closer to perfection and enables them to respond to their customers quickly, increase efficiency, reduce cost and stay ahead of the competition.
Salesforce Process automation
Thanks to Salesforce’s rich toolset and ability to customise and integrate with a variety of different systems, it is a perfect platform to enable digital transformation. Time-consuming, attention-oriented processes can be automated so that no matter where the process starts – internally, or via a customer self-service community – every step is instantly actioned with data synchronised between systems to remove the common blockages that slow manufacturing down.
With Salesforce also now doubling down on industry plays with its Manufacturing Cloud, there has never been a better time to get started.
Will Lamb is the Managing Director UKI at VRP Consulting. He has over 20 years of experience transforming businesses within the manufacturing, hi-tech, retail, media and comms sectors, with the last 11 years devoted to the Salesforce ecosystem.