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Manufacturing automation with integrated e-commerce

Written by
Published on
September 4, 2023

Digital commerce is rapidly expanding across the world of manufacturing. Manufacturers are realizing that one of the most effective ways to digitalize and automate their business processes involves integrating the latest B2B and D2C SaaS and cloud applications. While manufacturers already use ERP systems to manage their finance, logistics, and supply chain, or CRM systems to manage their customer database, the challenge now is to connect these systems with newer cloud apps and SaaS. The Alumio iPaaS or “integration Platform as a Service” is a modern, cloud-native middleware that helps businesses seamlessly integrate all their disparate systems, applications, and data sources. Most importantly, it enables real-time data exchange and helps build workflows to automate processes across all integrated systems.

Enabling manufacturing automation with e-commerce integrations

The recent global pandemic has exponentially increased the urgency for businesses across industries to embrace digital transformation and e-commerce. Manufacturers traditionally rely on supply chain models where their end product is sold by retailers through wholesalers. However, they are now discovering the digital transformation benefits of integrating B2B and even D2C (Direct-to-Consumer) e-commerce, which helps them control and multiply the sales channels for their products.

One of the biggest advantages of digital commerce for manufacturers is commerce automation. This involves deploying the latest e-commerce cloud apps or SaaS solutions to automate order fulfillment, operations, customer service, product information enrichment, and more. For years, manufacturers have already been implementing ERP, CRM, PLM, and MES systems to streamline and automate their supply chain management and internal operations. Now there’s a need to integrate new commerce SaaS or cloud apps like PIM, OMS, POS, WMS, Marketing automation, Marketplace Channels, AI, BI, and many more. These help automate processes like data entry, product information enrichment, order fulfillment, online customer service, shipping, digital marketing, online reviews, marketplace listing, and multichannel management.

However, while it is easy for manufacturers to implement these e-commerce applications, the true challenge lies in integrating them and getting them to exchange data and services. Simply implementing new applications in a disconnected manner can lead to data silos and operational inefficiencies in the long term. To add to this, the traditional way to integrate applications involves building expensive and time-consuming point-to-point integrations with custom code, which are difficult to maintain and lack scalability. It is for this reason that manufacturing businesses are discovering a next-gen, cloud-based middleware called the integration Platform as a Service (iPaaS).

How does an integration platform help manufacturing automation?

An iPaaS (integration Platform as a Service) is a cloud-based low-code or no-code middleware solution. As an API-driven solution, It helps connect multiple systems, SaaS, applications, and data sources without custom code and enables seamless real-time data exchange. Centralizing all integrations and data on one cloud-based platform, the iPaaS helps businesses develop, govern, and orchestrate all these integrations from one user-friendly web interface.

Advanced integration platforms like Alumio provide developer-friendly options to flexibly transform data, build custom integrations, and most importantly - build workflows to automate processes across all connected systems. Furthermore, by enabling data synchronization and providing robust monitoring and logging, an integration platform ensures real-time error detection, reduces troubleshooting costs, and significantly reduces errors or process inefficiencies.

How can manufacturers use the iPaaS to improve automation?

One of the biggest problems of manufacturing companies in the digital age is that their Value Chain is often disconnected. The Value Chain of a business consists of “Primary Activities” or departments of a business, such as inbound and outbound logistics, operations, marketing, sales, and custom service, and it also includes “Support Activities” which include procurement, technology, infrastructure, and HR.

An integration platform (iPaaS) can work as a scalable central hub for manufacturing companies, which they can use to swiftly and strategically implement cloud apps and SaaS solutions across each of these areas of the Value chain. By enabling real-time data exchange and synchronization, the iPaaS helps link and streamline processes across the entire Value Chain, improving operational efficiency, reducing error costs, and providing 360-degree insights. Most importantly, by building complex workflows using the iPaaS, manufacturers can enable process automation between all these integrated systems, exponentially reducing operational costs and increasing ROI.

Read more about how an integration platform can help optimize the value chain of enterprises →

What kind of systems or applications can manufacturers integrate with an iPaaS?

One of the most common software connections that manufacturers build using the iPaaS are integrations between ERP systems and e-commerce platforms. Advanced iPaaS solutions like Alumio provide native and custom connectors (pre-configured integrations) to speed up integrations with popular ERP systems like SAP or Microsoft Dynamics 365, which lack the necessary API Points to integrate with e-commerce applications. However, the iPaaS also helps manufacturers to further expand their ERP to e-commerce integrations by enabling them to seamlessly add more applications for digital growth.

For instance, by enabling manufacturers to integrate Marketplace Channels like Channel Engine with their e-commerce platform, they can instantly make their products available on marketplaces like Amazon, Best Buy, eBay, bol, and more. Similarly, Shopify recently launched Shopify Markets, which helps businesses swiftly sell their products in international markets from one platform.

Apart from enabling manufacturers to integrate applications that help them expand their business, the iPaaS also helps integrate solutions to improve product data enrichment, such as a PIM (Product Information Management) system. It helps centralize, generate, and propagate product info such as product descriptions, images, videos, specifications, and attributes. A PIM works as “a single source of truth” for all this product information, automating the enrichment and distribution of product data across channels. When integrated with e-commerce and ERP systems, it helps reduce data entry, improves customer experiences, and enhances multi-channel selling initiatives.

EDI integrations are one of the most important connections that the iPaaS helps manufacturers with. Short for Electronic Data Interchange, EDI helps streamline and enhance B2B data exchange, enabling paperless exchange of essential business data such as orders, stock, invoices, credit notes, and ASNs. In this regard, EDI helps manufacturers stay connected with all their vendors and suppliers, getting real-time updates in business information.

By helping manufacturers integrate multiple such systems, apps, and data sources, the iPaaS helps them build, govern, and orchestrate a scalable commerce ecosystem. Thus, apart from helping them automate business processes with these integrations, the iPaaS also helps businesses automate the entire integration journey. This provides manufacturers with a plethora of long-term and immediate business benefits.  

What manufacturing automation benefits does an integration platform provide?

  1. Real-time Inventory Management: Using the iPaaS, automated manufacturing processes can communicate directly with inventory databases, ensuring accurate real-time inventory tracking. This not only prevents overstocking or stockouts but also facilitates timely reordering, reducing operational downtime and associated costs.
  2. Efficient Order Fulfillment: Integration with commerce applications enables instant order processing and fulfillment. Automated assembly lines can initiate production as soon as orders are received, ensuring rapid delivery and customer satisfaction.
  3. Data-Driven Insights: Commerce integrations provide valuable data insights into manufacturing processes. This data can be analyzed to identify trends, optimize production schedules, and make informed decisions for continuous improvement.
  4. Seamless Supplier Collaboration: Commerce integrations enable manufacturers to establish seamless communication with suppliers, automating processes such as order placements, inventory updates, and shipment notifications. When inventory levels reach a specific threshold, orders can be automatically generated, streamlining the replenishment process.
  5. Enhanced Customer Experience: A robust commerce integration ensures accurate and up-to-date order tracking for customers. Automated notifications about order status and delivery schedules enhance transparency and customer satisfaction.
  6. Cost Reduction: By eliminating manual intervention in various stages of the manufacturing and order fulfillment processes, businesses can significantly reduce labor costs and minimize errors, leading to improved cost-efficiency.

Want to learn how Heusinkveld, developers of cutting-edge sim racing products, used the Alumio iPaaS to (1) rapidly integrate WooCommerce and their Odoo ERP, (2) transform data exchange, (3) enable real-time error detection with monitoring alerts and (4) improve order fulfillment? Read the full case study here →

In conclusion

By integrating disparate systems within a manufacturing environment and helping connect new systems, applications, and data sources, the iPaaS becomes the linchpin of a cohesive manufacturing ecosystem. In doing so, it enables real-time data exchange and process automation across all integrated applications. By minimizing manual tasks, manufacturers can allocate resources more strategically, minimize errors, and accelerate production cycles. Most importantly, by using the iPaaS to connect applications across the Value Chain, manufacturers can accelerate digital transformation initiatives and be ready to embrace the growth of digital commerce.

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