How do manufacturers optimize globally stretched production networks and supply chains in a world where expertise is both scarce and widely dispersed? When a problem presents itself, a subject matter expert (SME) somewhere—perhaps at distant headquarters, at a remote research facility or center of excellence, even in a different country—is often the best path to a solution.
This remote SME for manufacturing combines hardened high-definition video, audio streams, and data capabilities to help enable remote collaboration. Manufacturers can rapidly find experts, including engineers, technicians, planners and troubleshooters, located anywhere in the world, and deploy them instantly over the virtual platform to avert or solve production bottlenecks, train workers, or even help close sales deals.
Bridging Distance: Remote SME for Manufacturing
Experienced engineers in North America, for example, are under pressure to train new talent and transfer technology and skills to emerging markets. Travel has been the traditional way to bridge vast distances, but that’s becoming more expensive every year, not to mention more tedious and fraught with delays. These costs and logistics place natural limits on a manufacturer’s ability to deliver expertise where it’s needed most. In an industry that depends on speed and efficiency in every phase of the product and production lifecycle, the shortage of on-the-spot expertise can place huge constraints on manufacturers and ultimately hurt their ability to successfully compete.
Figure 1 illustrates the time-to-value benefit of the Mobile Video Collaboration platform.
As this paper will show, a remote SME platform can accelerate time-to-value across the manufacturing value chain — from sales and engineering to customer service and dealer networks.
Put simply, remote SME enables a unified workspace experience for manufacturing workers that encompasses both their fixed and mobile devices (wired or wireless connections) and can be cloud-based, physical, or virtual in terms of the supporting IT and compute infrastructure. The platform also provides device flexibility for greater worker satisfaction and productivity, creating an overall network that is "borderless," accepting all kinds of connection ready hardware and allowing greater collaboration and faster response.
The remote SME for manufacturing platform empowers collaboration both within the enterprise and outside it.
Inside the enterprise, the remote SME platform:
- Facilitates sales deals with the timely insertion of subject matter expertise
- Shrinks product development cycles and time to market
- Boosts production efficiency and other measures of overall equipment effectiveness (OEE), including uptime, quality and throughput
Outside the enterprise, the remote SME platform:
- Enables fast, efficient capturing of customer opinion and feedback to improve product quality and adjust business strategies
- Provides access to real-time (or recorded) video interactions with customers, enabling better product support and services engagements
- Improves management of suppliers and their output
Boosting Manufacturing Efficiency and Quality
With experts and engineers in short supply, manufacturers are hard pressed to mobilize the talent they need to quickly resolve production bottlenecks and avoid downtime. That’s why top manufacturers constantly track and try to improve OEE, a key measure of plant uptime and throughput. The impact to companies is hardly trivial: unplanned factory downtime can cost manufacturers millions of dollars per minute.
At customer sites as well, poor monitoring of installed equipment can cause unexpected malfunctions and downtime, impacting customer revenue, satisfaction and loyalty. The growing shortage of on-the-spot SMEs can also lead to product flaws that can jeopardize future sales.
Figure 2 illustrates how a remote SME for manufacturing minimizes downtime by supporting rapid problem resolution from the plant floor to external suppliers.
Sales cycles for large manufacturers (as well as their dealers) tend to be long and complex, involving dozens of stakeholders, complex technical issues, and multiple review sessions. In many cases, companies can accelerate sales cycles and close more deals by engaging and inserting the right expert into the sales process at critical points.
With remote SMEs for manufacturing, companies rapidly find the best subject matter expert (SME) available, regardless of location, and engage that person in virtual face-to-face sessions with customers to present key data and address questions and concerns. Behind the scenes, sales teams plug into the platform to find and collaborate with experts over secure video and data channels — for example, in the review and refinement of CAD drawings needed in sales proposals.
Manufacturers also say that the remote expert platform improves collaboration between their dealers and end customers, helping to boost sales across dealer and distributor networks. Also driving dealer sales is the efficient transfer of best practices and know-how from the OEM to the dealer networks using the virtual collaboration platform. This transfer can include delivering in-depth sales training to dealers that can shorten the learning curve for account teams and improve sales performance during new product rollouts.
Global Automaker Reinvents Value Proposition with Remote Expert Solutions
An iconic automotive brand has been reengineering operations in recent years to seize growth opportunities in emerging markets and reclaim market share.
As part of its efforts to reinvent product development and marketing, the automaker has been examining remote expert technologies to quantify potential cost savings, productivity gains, and process cycle time reduction. The company is now looking at several remote visual collaboration solutions to facilitate everything from real-time access to SMEs, plant-floor troubleshooting, and global training of field engineers. The company has identified the following use cases in which remote expert solutions could enhance business performance:
- Improve field service effectiveness and reduce warranty costs — by offering real-time, scheduled, or impromptu access to SMEs via a pervasive video platform
- Build stronger relationships with external suppliers — by establishing effective B2B video conferencing
- Get new products to market faster with a faster product launch process — by using high-quality video communications to foster dynamic cross-business unit integration
- Enable faster and more effective response to plant-floor issues — through fast deployment of both internal and external technical support
In a global economy that is constantly reinventing itself, manufacturers are caught in a bind. Speed and agility are essential for success, but the distances separating operations and suppliers are greater than ever ― and that means the expertise manufacturers need to optimize production and profits are rarely located in the place they’re needed most.
By deploying a remote SME solution, companies are conquering the challenges of distance and logistics, using secure video and data platforms to find and instantly engage engineers and SMEs to solve problems in operations anywhere in the world―and to transfer skills and best practices far more efficiently than before.
Remote SMEs help product developers and sales teams build closer relationships with customers and to capture feedback, so that developers build better products going forward. Faster and dramatically more cost-effective than traditional travel, remote SMEs for manufacturing give companies the power to realize value sooner across a range of business areas and compete more effectively in an accelerating global marketplace.
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