How Intelligent Automation is Reshaping Manufacturing

John Woods, Managing Director at Alvarez & Marsal, shares with us how intelligent automation is shaking up the sector & helping manufacturing stay ahead

Alvarez & Marsal (A&M) is a global professional services firm that provides advisory, business performance improvement and turnaround management services to manufacturers, as well as private equity firms, law firms and government agencies facing complex challenges.

John Woods a Managing Director with Alvarez & Marsal’s digital practice in London, with 24 years of experience as a global management consultant, advising clients on improving their manufacturing operations and business performance.

He is deeply committed to delivering sustainable results for clients by optimising manufacturing operations and seamlessly integrating supply chains. His expertise is rooted in the industrial sector, with a particular focus on enhancing efficiency and innovation within the resources, energy, utilities, petrochemicals, automotive, tire and cement industries.

Here, he tells us about how intelligent digital solutions can drive automation and how such technology can help manufacturers to remain competitive.


The impact digital transformation can have in the manufacturing world

Since joining the firm's digital practice in 2022, John has specialised in Smart Connected Operations, including various aspects such as Digital Solutions, Asset Maintenance, and Engineering & Capital Projects.

“My role revolves around spearheading digital transformation projects, with a focus on Supply Chain & Operations Management,” John says. “This involves working with clients to develop strategy, diagnose improvement opportunities, establish operating models, facilitate turnarounds and implement sustainable change. I leverage my expertise in Supply Chain & Operations Management to drive innovation and efficiency within organisations, helping them adapt to the evolving digital landscape and stay ahead of the competition.”

Digital transformation is a key catalyst for organisations, unlocking hidden value, fuelling growth, fostering innovation and enriching customer experiences. 

“For manufacturers, now more than ever, it's critical that they embrace this digital shift in order to remain competitive and flourish in the fast-paced digital environment,” continues John. “This journey can significantly uplift various facets of business operations, leading to a host of positive outcomes.”

Data and AI are instrumental in this transformation. By harnessing advanced data analytics techniques, leveraging Robotic Process Automation tools and applying AI, manufacturers can make more informed decisions and further automate business and product manufacturing steps. 

“They can pinpoint resource-intensive processes in the manufacturing process and streamline shop floor workflows, targeting critical tasks burdened by manual labour like quality management, maintenance, and documentation, which are ripe for automation,” he says. “Digital transformation goes beyond operational enhancements; it cultivates an environment of innovation and ongoing advancement within organisations. By fostering a pragmatic, digital-first culture, manufacturing companies can empower their teams to welcome new technologies, spearhead innovation and nimbly adjust to the ever-shifting market landscape.”


How intelligent digital solutions can drive automation

Leveraging intelligent digital solutions and data analytics, including RPA, can significantly enhance efficiency on manufacturing floors by streamlining workflows and boosting productivity. While initial automation efforts focused on administrative tasks, there's vast potential in automating manual shop floor operations such as quality control and maintenance. 

“Prioritising automation for critical, labour-intensive tasks is key, especially in industries facing challenges like complex product demands and stringent regulatory requirements,” John adds. “In industrial settings, where up to 40% of staff may be engaged in manual tasks, this inefficiency becomes particularly pronounced given factors like increasing product complexity, evolving consumer demands and an ageing workforce.”

Advanced data analytics can further support this by unifying diverse data sets, enabling actionable insights that drive performance improvements. 

“While recent advancements in technologies like large language models such as ChatGPT have garnered attention, manufacturers can achieve significant improvements by leveraging already-established digital tools like data analytics,” says John. 

According to John, embracing intelligent digital automation is crucial for manufacturers aiming to stay ahead in the current market. 

“Automation and data analytics on the production floor bring several key advantages,” he says. “They allow employees to dedicate more time to strategic, high-value tasks, enhancing both job satisfaction and business outcomes. This shift enables quicker adaptation to market changes and bolsters innovation.”

Intelligent automation also minimises human error, ensuring consistent, high-quality production that boosts customer satisfaction and loyalty. 

“The precision provided by digital solutions guarantees top-notch product quality, maintaining the manufacturer's market standing through reliability and excellence,” John continues. “Ultimately, integrating smart digital technologies not only boosts efficiency and productivity but also fosters innovation, ensures product consistency, and enhances quality, helping manufacturers meet customer demands and drive growth.”

In his experience, the integration of intelligent digital solutions, such as RPA, into manufacturing has consistently demonstrated clear benefits.

“As an automotive parts producer, applying RPA to manage defects led to a yield boost of 20-30% and cut supplier response times by 50-60%,” he says. “Similarly, an aerospace and defence company saw over a 50% improvement in quality management by reducing manual tasks through better data presentation, system integration and strategic RPA application.”

These cases underline the significant impact of digital automation on manufacturing, from heightened productivity and efficiency to enhanced quality and quicker response times, highlighting the necessity of adopting such technologies for competitive advantage and ongoing enhancement in the manufacturing sector.


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