7 IT Upgrade Options for Manufacturers

It’s easy to get caught up in the day-to-day of keeping the production lines going and orders shipping out to customers on time. However, equipment, software and processes that may have been serving you well a few years ago, might now be holding you back.

Upgrading technology needs to be an ongoing activity if you want your business to stay competitive and secure. Reviews of things like hardware, cybersecurity, and workflow should be done regularly – not doing so may cost you more in equipment maintenance and put you at a higher risk of a cyberattack.

80% of manufacturers say digital transformation is now a higher priority than it was in the past 3-5 years.

What are some reasons that manufacturers need to upgrade their IT?

  • Improve productivity and efficiency
  • Old systems no longer have support
  • Reduce waste and improve accuracy
  • Lower labor costs by automating a process
  • Improve safety
  • Stay competitive

Technology is infused in every area of manufacturing, just as it is with other industries, which gives you multiple opportunities for upgrading your IT to improve reliability, safety, and efficiency.

Technology Areas to Consider for an Upgrade

If you’ve been looking for areas to upgrade at your Massachusetts manufacturing facility, here are several to consider that can mean lower costs and more forward motion for your company.

1. EDI (Electronic Data Interchange)

There are a lot of documents that need to move back and forth to keep a manufacturing business running. You have purchase orders, invoices, requests for quote, and many others. Processing these manually can take up valuable employee time, lead to paperwork errors, and delay getting paid for an order. Software such as TrueCommerce integrates with Sage, QuickBooks, Oracle, and other leading accounting/Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) software suites. This allows for added functionality, and for documents to seamlessly move between software rather than manually creating additional documents to pick up where your ERP leaves off.

An EDI system puts all those communications in digital format to allow things like POs and invoices to flow system to system automatically. This is one area that can need an upgrade if you’re finding that your EDI is becoming more problematic when interfacing with clients and vendors.

Look for systems with easy-to-use interfaces and automations that can confirm a PO has been received and then move the task to the next process.

2. Server/Computer Operating System

All operating systems eventually reach “end of life” (EOL), which is when they are no longer supported with critical security updates. Without these security updates, everything stored on your company’s server is at significant risk of a malware infection. Ransomware is a common and often disastrous type of malware infection. When a computer or server is infected with ransomware, the attacker encrypts any file they can get access to on your network. Your company’s entire infrastructure can become compromised in a matter of hours.

Running an operating system past its EOL date puts you at a much greater risk of a data breach or malware infection.

If you have any servers with Windows Server 2008 or computers with Windows 7, both those operating systems reached EOL on January 14, 2020 and need to be upgraded as soon as possible to prevent a breach.

60% of data breaches in 2019 were due to unpatched software vulnerabilities.

3. Backups

When all else fails, a good backup can save your company serious time and money. If a company-critical file gets changed, or even accidentally deleted, a backup can help to restore that file to a previous version.

Additionally, in the event of a malware infection, a good backup gets your company back up and running without paying a high ransom to the attacker and with significantly less downtime. If there is not a good enough backup in the case of a ransomware attack, any files saved to the server and programs running on the server may be locked up for anywhere from a few days to over a week. This significant downtime can mean serious financial losses for the affected company.

With a good backup, recovering files and programs after a ransomware attack can take as little as a day.

4. IoT & Automation

The Internet of Things (IoT) has transformed manufacturing operations, especially in the area of equipment maintenance. Sensors, such as Augury, can send an alert to a phone app or an email to alert staff when a piece of equipment needs maintenance or is at risk of failure. These alerts can be very detailed, letting you know what is wrong with the machine, what caused it, and any recommended repairs. This can allow for enough of a warning to order any parts needed to repair your equipment before it becomes an issue.

But 70% of all manufacturers have not yet adopted digital operating systems and taken advantage of IoT and automation.

This is an upgrade area that offers significant opportunity to lower costs and improve profitability.

5. Cloud Software Tools

On-premises software is quickly becoming a thing of the past. Cloud software tools offer the flexibility and anywhere availability that’s needed in today’s working environment.

Upgrading to a more streamlined platform with integrated apps and data can improve your team’s workflows and keep everyone connected to the data they need when they’re not sitting in front of their desk.

Microsoft’s Office 365 is a great example of a cloud-based software tool. Through this, users gain access to Office apps such as Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Teams, and Zoom. Using Office 365 ensures that the software remains up to date, eliminating the upcharge to upgrade to a newer version of Office. For example, going from Office 2016 to Office 2019 would require purchasing a new license for Office 2019 at a cost of $439.99 per device, and will cost the same or more to upgrade to the next version after Office 2019. Whereas with Office 365, the cost includes all upcoming feature and security updates.

Office 365 also allows each user to download Office on up to 5 devices and gives 1TB of cloud storage to each user to allow for file sharing and access across multiple devices, making working remotely that much easier for your business.

6. Communications Infrastructure

Another important area of technology that’s gone from on-premises to virtual is phone and communication systems.

Voice over IP (VoIP) phone systems are a great way to increase your team’s productivity. This type of phone system works by hosting your company’s calls over the internet instead of through a designated phone line. Since the call goes through the internet, the system allows for standard features such as Caller ID, as well as more advanced features like call queuing, auto-answering attendants, and sending voicemails to emails rather than a separate mailbox. Additionally, this will make working remotely more seamless, as calls can be taken remotely by simply logging into the software at home.

It’s often loud in manufacturing facilities, so upgrading to a messaging-based app like Microsoft Teams or Slack can make a big difference in the effectiveness of your team communications. Messaging-based apps also aid in communications between office employees working remotely and employees that are working in-person at the office, as this allows for a quick way to communicate in real time without tying up a phone line. Many of these apps, including Teams, allow for voice and video calls through the computer as well, to aid in internal and external meetings.

7. Computers/Laptops

The computers and laptops that your employees are using can be costing you in security and productivity if you’ve waited too long to replace them. A typical replacement cycle is 3-4 years to ensure computers stay productive.

For employees whose positions involve significant movement on the manufacturing floor, a laptop with a docking station is a great solution. This setup enables employees to have the flexibility to use their laptop as a standard laptop while walking the factory or shop floor, as well as the functionality of a desktop computer at their desk by plugging in one cable. This setup also works great for users working remotely, as it allows them to have their work computer function as a laptop when not in the office, and as a desktop when in the office.

When working with CAD or CAM software suites, computers become obsolete much more quickly. As these software suites become more robust, the demand on your computer’s hardware grows higher. Over time, this leads to low performance, and eventually, incompatibility. CAD/CAM software also slightly modifies the file types from version to version. For example, a file saved in Solidworks 2021 is unable to be opened in Solidworks 2020. If one computer is incompatible with the newest version of your company’s CAD software, that employee will become unable to work on files that anyone in your company has modified in the newer software package, leading to a significant bottleneck in the design and manufacturing process.

Get Expert Help with Upgrades that Lower Costs & Improve Efficiency

Cleartech Group can help your manufacturing facility with smart IT upgrades that can mean a big difference in your bottom line.

Contact us today to discuss your tech upgrade options! Call us to chat at 978-466-1938 or reach out online.