Robotic Process Automation (RPA) can be defined as the use of software with artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning capabilities to handle high-volume, repeatable tasks that were previously performed by humans. These tasks can include queries, calculations, and maintenance of records and transactions. This technology, also referred to as a process mining, software robot or bot, mimics a human worker, logging into applications, entering data, as well as performing calculation and other tasks. Needless to say, RPA software enables an organization to implement the technology in a quick and effective manner, without incorporating any changes in the exiting infrastructure and systems.
Although the term RPA can be traced back to the early 2000s, it had been developing from before. It basically evolved from three major technologies: screen scraping, workflow automation, and artificial intelligence. The digital transformation journeys of companies can be largely facilitated by RPA in the following ways:
- Enables better customer service
- Ensures the compliance of business operations and processes with regulations and standards
- Speeds up processes
- Enhances the efficiency by digitizing and auditing process data
- Creates cost savings on manual and repetitive tasks
- Generates higher productivity in employees
As far as the manufacturing industry is concerned, it is interesting to note that RPA plays a key role in streamlining operations by automating business processes for higher efficiency and effectiveness. Since many years now, physical robots have been in use for the purposes of assembling, testing, and packing products in several manufacturing companies. However, despite this, companies are often fraught with issues related to back office processes, such as keeping up with new regulations, lack of skilled labour, inventory management, etc. In such situations, companies are unable to offer top-notch services and innovation to customers, reduce costs, and maintain seamless communication with suppliers.
RPA has made it possible for manufacturers to automate major back office processes, and in the process, also identifying and improving the flawed areas. Thanks to RPA, companies are able to cut down the complications involved in managerial processes, creating an agile back office. With judicious implementation of RPA, companies can reinvigorate their supply chain procedures, also minimizing the distance between repetitive activities such as quoting, invoicing, accounts payable, accounts receivable, general ledger operations, etc. RPA also facilitates streamlining, enhanced efficiency, reduction in manual errors and rework time. All of this ensures quality improvements in processes and operational performance.
The following are 4 benefits of implementing RPA in the Manufacturing Industry:
- Elevated levels of regulatory compliance
- Deeper, real time process monitoring and analytics
- Replacing paper with digital platforms
- Digitized communication
It is interesting to note that in manufacturing, which is an ERP (enterprise resource planning) driven industry, RPA is all set to spark a huge transformation that will elevate this domain to greater heights. RPA can be completely relied upon, when it comes to intelligently automating a number of time-consuming functionalities within enterprise resource planning systems like Oracle, SAP, and other such platforms. With simple drag-and-drop scripting, users can automate many of the manual business processes that are otherwise expensive as well as time-consuming. With the use of RPA tools, one can effortlessly work through the presentation layers of EPR, CRM, and SCM systems. It is because of these systems that entire business rules and audit trails are maintained to ensure security and traceability.
Processes automated in ERP systems using RPA:
- Report generation- automation of inventory, pricing, Accounts Payable, and other similar reports
- Inventory: RPA tools are responsible for monitoring current inventory, reordering parts, and providing notifications during times of low stock
- Application integration software: RPA tools are entrusted with tasks such as integrating disparate EPR platforms, or the current ERP with a website, CRM, HR platforms, or other applications
- Stock keeping unit updates: RPA tools are unparalleled when it comes to automatically performing mass updates to SKU numbers, appending or merging data, and more
- FTP/SharePoint uploads: RPA tools automatically pull or upload files to multiple FTP sites on-command or whenever a particular file is detected
By eliminating human error from simple processes, RPA tools ensure that products are built and shipped on time in various ways. RPA benefits the manufacturing industry in the following ways:
- Bill of materials (BOM): It lists the things required to manufacture the end product, including raw materials, sb-assemblies, intermediate assemblies, sub-components, parts, and the quantities of each. Since a lot of time and money of the business would be wasted in case there is any human error on the BOM, possible even costing the organization the sale of a product, RPA is brought into the picture.
- Inventory: it hardly needs to be mentioned that as far as manufacturing products on deadline is concerned, accurate inventory is a prerequisite. With human oversight, it may so happen that a material required for a job goes missing or is used in a different project. If this happens, team members will end up scrambling for materials. In the process time will be lost, production will slow down, and it might even lead to a loss in sales. RPA tools can emerge to be the saviour which helps is preventing such scenarios. They can be put to use to manage the inventory in real time, and notify the team when inventory is low which will allow time for the materials to be restocked before the deficit actually has any significant effect.
- Compliance: for manufacturers who sell products at an international level, it is often a time consuming process to manage compliance issues for every product and every country, but with the implementation of RPA tools, this process will be simplified and quickened. RPA tools not only ensure accurate processing of data, but it also takes care of compliance requirements. Besides, these tools record what they update at any given time and leave a trail of changes. This allows the business to monitor if and when any change happens.
- Communication: it is quite a time consuming process to communicate with existing clients, prospective clients, and any other person involved in the manufacturing business. RPA can automate some of these processes which will be of significant help for those on the factory floor as well as in the office. Be it name recognition or language detection, automatic email replies or chat bots, a manufacturer can communicate much faster by employing RPA tools than with humans alone.
- Data migration: it also takes up a great deal of time to find, organize, and utilize data, irrespective of whether the data is on paper or in an old system. RPA tools can prove to be instrumental in streamlining the migration process from partially paper to a completely new digital system. Thereafter, paper files can be digitized and integrated into the new system, and files from an old system can be transferred to the new system properly. Automating the transfer of data will not only save time, but also do away with human error, such as duplicate or missing files.
- Purchase order creation: midsize or large organizations that deal with multiple categories of products often find it daunting to cope with the manual process for purchase order creation. By adopting RPA solutions, the entire process of PO creation can be automated which enables accurate and speedy results.
- Inventory management: it goes without saying that the process of inventory control is of paramount importance which forms the foundation of supply chain management. RPA helps in automating various functions such as monitoring inventory, generating notifications about the stock levels, and reordering products when the levels go below a particular threshold. This can be achieved with minimal human intervention. What’s more, the implementation of RPA automatically leads to the creation of a detailed audit trail.
- Vendor communication: the manufacturing industry demands day-to-day communication between vendors, customers, and internal workforce, which in turn needs a great deal of manual effort. For example, the customer service representative handles various queries including the status of the goods shipped. The representative typically finds the email communication, tracks the shipment status in the ERP system, sends an update to the customer, and so on. RPA, on the other hand, can take over the entire process by opening the mail, reading the text, downloading the required attachments (if any), logging into the ERP portal, determining the status of the shipment, replying to the customer, and moving on to the next customer email. Without any human intervention, the entire process can eliminate up to 65% of the manual effort, enabling employees to resolve more customer queries in less time.
- Administration and reporting: by implementing RPA in the administration department of a manufacturing business, the industry can get all the reports of their production, which in turn will aid them in managing the business efficiently.
- Customer support and service desk: RPA can prove to be immensely beneficial for an enhanced communication with the customer in the front office. It can be used to alert a reminder while employee following up with customers, maintain the contact schedule and in case a customer raises a complaint, it will trigger employees.
The bottomline is, when it comes to digital transformation initiatives within the manufacturing industry, RPA is the key enabler. Accounts payable process automation, invoice processing automation, and supply chain automation are some of the areas where RPA can optimize the core operations and improve agility, speed, and quality.