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Small and Medium sized Enterprises (SMEs) are small but are a big deal in any economy. They represent about 90% of businesses and more than 50% of employment worldwide according to the World Bank. This article highlights 3 top ways manufacturing SMEs can start using emerging technologies.
We will look at the relationship between SDG 9 – Build resilient infrastructure, promote inclusive and sustainable industrialization, and foster innovation – and the role of emerging technologies. The primary focus is on manufacturing SMEs and how they can start using emerging technologies to gain a competitive edge in the market.
The UN says that the world still has a long way to go to fully tap into the potential of SDG 9. Least developed countries, in particular, need to accelerate the development of their manufacturing sector if they are to meet the 2030 target of SDG 9.
How can SMEs in Manufacturing Benefit from Emerging Technologies?
SMEs in the manufacturing sector can benefit from emerging technologies in several ways. They can use data analytics and big data to gain insights into their operations and make data-driven decisions. They can also use robotics and automation to streamline their operations. The SMEs can use cloud computing to reduce IT costs, improve collaboration and access to data from any location. These are only a few examples.
It is important for SMEs in manufacturing to evaluate the potential benefits and costs of each technology they intend to use. They can develop strategies on how to implement and integrate the technologies into their operations.
Why are SMEs in Manufacturing Missing Out on the Benefits of Emerging Technologies?
There are several reasons why SMEs in manufacturing are not experiencing the benefits of emerging technologies. Some of these reasons include: lack of funds, lack of technical expertise, complexity of implementation, data security concerns, lack of awareness, resistance to change, etc.
To overcome the challenges above, SMEs in manufacturing can seek support from the government and industry associations, and educate themselves on emerging technologies. They can also adopt the technologies in phases starting with low-cost solutions before moving to expensive ones. According to a report by OECD, governments can provide SMEs with technology support and assistance through targeted financial support, technology extension programmes or both.
Below are 3 top ways manufacturing SMEs can start using emerging technologies.
- Adopt the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT)
Trend Micro defines the industrial internet of things (IIoT) as the extension and use of the internet of things (IoT) in industrial sectors and applications. The focus is on machine-to-machine (M2M) communication, big data, machine learning, robotics, and devices.
Manufacturing SMEs find it hard to build industrial IoT because they don’t have the financial or human resources like large companies do. Nordic Semiconductor observes that small manufacturers play a critical role in keeping the world’s supply chain moving, yet they are lagging in adopting industrial IoT solutions. What can be done to help them?
The European Digital SME Alliance has published a practical guide on IIoT for SMEs to facilitate adoption and address common security concerns, and develop standards for both. This initiative will help SMEs in manufacturing with the knowledge and know-how to start adopting emerging technologies in a low-cost way.
- Competence Centres to Help Manufacturing SMEs Start Using Emerging Technologies
IBM says that enterprises need a way to help smooth over some of the technology adoption bumps. A time tested approach is a centre of competency (COC). It is an independent body that is formed by organizations that have a stake in the success of a new technology.
In an article on Manufacturing Today, the Smart Manufacturing Competency Centre was inaugurated in Ahmedabad, India. Its objective is to accelerate the adoption of smart manufacturing solutions by India’s best innovators. The centre will bring together solution seekers and providers under one virtual roof to understand manufacturing challenges and co-create solutions. It will engage start-ups and technology solution providers.
- Identify Business Goals and then Select the Relevant Emerging Technologies
Force Intellect says that for SMEs in manufacturing to adopt digital technologies, they should start with identifying their objectives. They should find out why they want to adopt a digital technology, the objectives they want to achieve and how to weave the new technology in their business processes. That is a good starting point because it is important to know how emerging technologies will help you achieve your business goals.
Costly industrial robots are out of reach for SMEs in manufacturing. They take long to install and program. A new type of robot that is increasing the competitive edge of SMEs, especially in developing countries is the cobot.
A cobot is a collaborative robot that works side by side with a human. Cobots don’t replace humans but work with them. They are smaller, lighter, more accurate and help humans with repetitive tasks. Cobots are easy to install and program and can do several tasks. Universal Robots manufactures cobots and offers online training, video tutorials, and related robot services. A robot suitable for small production runs is Eva.
Boulangerie La Fabrique is an artisan bakery in Quebec, Canada that uses robots to automate its bread packaging line. It had to keep up with the demands of its customers despite having fewer than 20 employees. The bakery eliminated tedious and repetitive tasks, improved its packaging line and standardized the production capacity.
- 3D Printing
The high cost of 3D printing or additive manufacturing has hindered access to the technology by SMEs. Yet there are many advantages of 3D printing to SMEs. It helps SMEs create affordable prototypes, sell 3D printed products online, create customizable products, etc.
Kijenzi is a startup in Kenya that uses 3D printing technology to provide medical solutions to healthcare providers and institutions that serve the public. It provides hard to get items and allows a customer to place an order for custom products. Kijenzi makes items such as bed net connectors, incubator door hinges, assistive toothbrush holders, etc.
Governments, larger corporations and others stakeholders can come together and help manufacturing SMEs access financing and resources to help them start using emerging technologies. SMEs can also look for low-cost ways of adopting manufacturing technologies.
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