Are you a digital transformation denier
? We’ve all heard the “denier” moniker applied in today’s parlance to things like climate change. If you work in manufacturing, and you deny that your world is changing, moving further and further into a digital realm…then you are fooling yourself. Today’s manufacturing climate has proven that the industry is moving into the digital age—beyond the shadow of a doubt.
It’s Darwinian at this point. If you do not adapt and thereby adopt digital transformation technologies
in your manufacturing endeavors—specifically, on the plant floor—then you are doomed to be left behind, to wither on the vine. Hence, the title of this piece. It’s worth digging into, so let’s get started…
Where We Are—Manufacturing's Move to Digital Transformation
The business world is moving away from stable, predictable markets and toward increasingly dynamic and unpredictable markets. One could surmise that this is due to increasingly fickle and “promiscuous” customers. We consumers want the latest and greatest…and we are becoming more and more savvy in our consumerism every day. That’s just the way it is.
But society, in general, is changing as well. Have you noticed how connected
everything is today? That opens us up to fast-paced changes in buying habits—due to highly influential trends and preferences driven by social media. And that is a huge challenge for manufacturers.
For instance, how do we, as manufacturers, keep up with increasing sensitivities that are driven by widespread societal issues like sustainability, the use of plastics, and the scourge of corporate greed? These societal issues affect how consumers perceive a company, and therefore its products and, ultimately, whether they buy them or not.
Add to all that the shrinking of our world—global logistics and supply chains are tearing down barriers and cost-of-entry for new competitors into markets all the time—and you can see how that's making the world much smaller for manufacturers and much more competitive
The odds are stacked against any organization that refuses to transform digitally in today’s market.
5 Reasons for Digital Transformation
The list is much longer, but I’ve been thinking about this for quite a while and decided on what I consider to be the top five reasons
that manufacturing needs digital transformation now more than ever. I’ll ask a lot of questions along the way, things for us all to think about. And then sum up at the end. On with my five reasons…
Reason 1: Do More With Less for Efficient Manufacturing
We simply need to do more with less these days, and this is either being driven by the need to reduce costs within the business, or the need to be agile in the face of a disruption.
On the one hand, you could be in an industry where you've seen the demand for your products plummet or completely dry up. That's putting a huge amount of pressure on your business in terms of where you can cut costs. And where you can reduce operational costs as much as possible.
But then, on the other hand, you have those industries in which demand has skyrocketed overnight—that's still doing more with less, because even though demand has increased, you might have serious problems with supply, that is, your supply chains might be disrupted or completely cut off. You might have to switch suppliers quickly to get the raw materials you need to manufacture your products. Or you may have a reduced workforce available on the plant-floor and need to make those who are still available as productive as possible.
Or you may be somewhere in the middle, where demand has been only modestly impacted. But still the need to do more with less is prevalent beyond that which is driven by demand. We need to reduce waste, energy, and resource consumption. We need to become more sustainable, more climate friendly, and environmentally responsible. We need the operational cost efficiencies to enable us to be as price competitive as possible. The list goes on and on.
And we need to do all of that while ensuring that what we produce is not only safe and fit for purpose, but of the highest quality that today’s consumers demand and expect (more on that later).
So, whichever side of that divide you sit on, the need to do more with less is absolutely critical
. Right now.
Reason 2: Be More Agile and Responsive
As we've touched on, adapting to volatility and uncertainty on both the demand and supply sides is critical. Even in mainstream and traditional manufacturing sectors, we're still seeing big spikes, upticks, and downticks in demand. You can tear up the rule book on demand forecasting and supply chain planning because we just do not know from one day to the next what that demand will look like or what the supply chain logistics will look like. So, we really are almost “flying by the seat of our pants”—we’re being forced to make decisions very quickly about how to adapt operations to cope with that uncertainty and volatility.
The antidote to that is to become more agile, we need to be more responsive. We need to reduce the latency between when we start to see these things happening in the market or supply chains and then make the decisions about what we do on the plant floor in response to that. The decision-making process must be reduced from weeks to days, if not hours.
So, reason number two really is just that: we all need to be more agile and responsive.
Reason 3: Quality Never Rests
That’s right. There’s a pandemic. Markets are volatile and unpredictable, and you’re fighting for your manufacturing life. But quality never rests
. If you produce goods that are sub-par, consumers will not buy them and if they do, they won’t buy them again. If you ship goods that are unsafe or in breach of regulations, the authorities will soon be knocking at your door.
Quality absolutely is still a high priority, a top priority. Just because we're facing these massive challenges in the industry, nobody—whether it be regulators or consumers—are saying to manufacturers, "Well, I know times are a bit tricky at the moment and a bit tough, so I'll accept a substandard product," or "Your OK, I'll accept a product that's potentially more at risk of being unsafe or not fit for purpose, or less than what I’m used to." Absolutely not. No way. Consumers are still demanding those high levels of quality and consistency…and so are regulators.
Therefore, quality control methods must remain consistent throughout the challenges we face. It is non-negotiable. So, how do we do that? How do we maintain the high bar of quality when we've got so much disruption happening around us in the business?
So, quality never rests and must remain #1—that's reason number three.
Reason 4: Tribal Knowledge is a High-Risk Strategy
Tribal knowledge is all the knowledge that has been gained on the plant floor, from years and years of manufacturing your products. The operators know the “personalities” of the machinery, the plant floor supervisors almost have a sixth sense of how to run their production operations. And that is locked in the heads of the people who have garnered all that experience.
But given the current state of affairs and the impact on workforce availability (stripping it down to a skeleton crew and that sort of thing), well, that knowledge goes right out the door (literally). If you have workers being laid off or workers not able to be on the plant floor, then your company’s tribal knowledge is being lost or seriously eroded. If you find yourself having to draft workers from different areas and roles to fill in for absent workers, then that tribal knowledge is of little use to them. The fact that tribal knowledge is just in people's heads should sound a klaxon alarm (from the Ancient Greek verb klazō, "I shriek," for you logophiles out there)—that is a massive risk for manufacturers. So, how do you solve that?
The Move Away from Tribal Knowledge
Well, you need to codify that tribal knowledge into facts, that is, take a cold, hard look at the reality of your production environment—and have the data, analytics, and intelligence you need to make fact-based
decisions on what needs to be done to prevent and alleviate any problems.
You need to capture and convert that tacit tribal knowledge into explicit rules, procedures, processes, and workflows and ensure that they are consistently implemented. Now the luddites will no doubt be frowning at this because it flies in the face of “thinking on your feet.” Thinking instead that it imposes a culture of rigidity and inflexibility and the proverbial “the computer says no.” With today’s technology capabilities, that could not be farther from reality.
You can no longer rely on that gray matter in people's heads—the tribal knowledge that people have built up over the years—because it's too fragile now. It might not be there when you need it.
Therefore, that's reason number four: to transform that tribal knowledge into digital foundations
Reason 5: Remote Work is the New Reality
Almost overnight, manufacturers have become a remote-working industry, or a touchless
industry. I’ve mentioned this topic before (most recently in this blog
); many manufacturers have had to pivot very quickly to many of their non-essential production personnel working remotely from the manufacturing facility. However, on the plant floor, there are many physical tasks that still need to be performed that can't be done remotely—and those are being performed by the limited personnel still on-site. Everything else that doesn't necessarily require a physical presence is being shifted to remote locations. So how do you access all that critical information that you need when it’s no longer right there?
When we talk about “remote,” most people conjure up this image of someone working from home, but that's actually not what we mean…at least, not only
what we mean. We mean also “being remote from the plant floor,” in order to better observe social distancing and that sort of thing. Most manufacturers are restricting the amount of personnel that can be on the shop floor at any given time. So, that might mean that a production supervisor has to do her job from an office on the site, rather than actually walking the floor. But, as you can see, that's still working remotely
These workers may have access to corporate applications like manufacturing execution systems (MES) or enterprise resource planning (ERP) solutions, but they don't have easy access to those production interfaces like supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) systems, human machine interfaces (HMIs), and other information sources on the plant floor. So that is problematic.
Let’s return to a term I used at the top of reason 5: “touchless.” In many countries, including the US and the UK, we're seriously trying to limit the number of surfaces that are touched by individuals. For instance, when you’re in a store you can browse but not touch. You can't pick a product off the shelf to look at the ingredients—you touch it, you buy it.
In a manufacturing environment, we want to limit touching as well. You don't want many people touching the same SCADA interface, or the same HMI, or the gauges, or even a mouse or keyboard on a plant floor workstation. So how do people access the information they need while we’re trying to reduce the amount of touches that occur?
We must find a way to give people access to the data, the analytics, and all the information they need without putting them at risk. That’s why remote access is reason number five.
So, in quick summation, those are the five reasons I believe Digital Transformation is More Important Now than Ever Before.
Digital Solutions for Transformative Thinking
Digital transformation can help us address all these challenges. In a recent blog series
, we discussed how “dysfunctional” data—data that is “either incomplete, inconsistent, isolated, or inefficient”—can impact your manufacturing operations in profound ways. It must be transformed into “actionable intelligence” (the opposite of dysfunctional data) to allow you the visibility
into your operations you need to move forward.
So, it all hinges on increased visibility. The best way to increase visibility into your operations is through unification and centralization of all your data. At InfinityQS, we call this the “bird’s eye view
.” With centralized data, greater analysis is possible—analysis that can provide strategic insights into your processes.
These insights can then be leveraged to help you make tactical decisions that can ultimately transform your organization.
The Cloud, SaaS, and Beyond
The best way to achieve unification and centralization is via the cloud—Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) solutions. The value and power of the cloud is becoming more evident with every passing day. It is obviously inherently remote and unified…and real time—by design. That is why many manufacturers are now embracing the cloud; they are seeing the need for digital transformation, taking it seriously, and doubling down now.
You can no longer get by with excuses like, “We don’t have the budget for that.” You need to make budget available. Your future depends on it. Ditch the old aphorisms like, “It will take years to make a change like that.” It’s just not true anymore.
InfinityQS SaaS solutions, Enact®
and ProFicient™ on Demand
, are quick to deploy and inexpensive. Let’s face it, manufacturing is notorious for planning and changing at glacial speed. The speed of digital transformation can now happen at a Silicon Valley pace.
And I've read quite a few surveys online recently citing several predictions stating that manufacturers are experiencing five-plus years of innovation on the plant floor in the space of 12 to 18 months. What once would have taken 5 to 10 years of innovation to flow through in the manufacturing sector is now being rushed through on these kinds of sub-one-year timescales. That's quite phenomenal. And exciting.
The cloud is maturing. It’s secure. It’s powerful and far-reaching. In short, it is transformational. You no longer need infrastructure in place, no need to plan for all those servers and the configuration associated with them. The speed of deployment now matches the requirements—and the urgency—we’ve talked about in this article.
Stop being a digital transformation denier
. It’s time to take your organization to the next level. Rise up to the cloud.
Take advantage of the technology at your fingertips today: contact one of our account managers (1.800.772.7978 or via our website
) for more information.