How to deliver digital transformation in manufacturing

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Delivering digital transformation relies on knowing the art of the possible and how to integrate these new technologies within your organisation and your people.​

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Digital Manufacturing

Delivering digital transformation relies on knowing the art of the possible and how to integrate these new technologies within your organisation and your people.​  

Consider the ‘mighty middle’ of the manufacturing sector. Of those companies with between £20m and £100m turnover, few will have an IT department full of data specialists, never mind a dedicated team of data scientists and engineers able to define requirements, create the data infrastructure and write the software programmes. But that is not what is needed.  

What is needed is someone that knows about the technology available and how to deliver digital transformation. ​

Companies need to appoint a Digital Transformation Champion (DTC) that can learn about the new technologies and develop and implement a manufacturing digital transformation roadmap. The DTC can work with external suppliers and specialists to deliver the expected ROI in a planned and structured way and work within and outside the organisation to gain buy in from all stakeholders.  

Digital transformation is all about taking small specific steps that combine and create change to the overall organisation. For this to happen an organisational cultural shift is required that will embrace and implement the new technologies.  

The Digital Transformation Road Map

Search the internet and you will find many models for developing digital transformation road maps, some better than others. For me, there are four main elements that must be addressed; The Art of the Possible; Determination of Priorities; Cultural Shift; and Plan and Execute. This is depicted below. 

The Digital Transformation Road Map

Art of the Possible

Many manufactures are familiar with CADCAM, automated machine tools, MRP systems and now additive manufacturing and robotics. However, these technologies are just the tip of the iceberg. For example, AI and ML offers a high impact at relatively low investment – the low hanging fruit of digital transformation – and virtual assistants can accelerate operational productivity.

The Digital Transformation Champion (DTC) can work with experts and peers in industry to investigate options and start to develop high-level digital transformation success criteria that meet the company’s overall goals. One key part of this strategy is to find technologies that are off the shelf, can be integrated with other technologies and can be rapidly deployed at scale so early successes can be achieved.

Determine Priorities

When determining priorities, it is important to understand current capability not only in terms of already digital tools and systems but also in terms of ​people, equipment, supply chain and customer capability.

A transition will have to take place from where a company is now, to where it will be in the future and this needs to form part of the transformation planning.

This transformation will not just take place inside the factory but also outside of the factory so customers and suppliers will be involved and may well be the drivers of change.

Classically, ROI is calculated as a measure of the financial return against the financial investment. It is true that labour hours, materials, and energy costs are often saved through the implementation of digital technologies, but it is unwise to rely on simple ROI measures as this may not give a true view of the impact to the business.

Digital transformation allows products to be sold as a service, accelerates new product introduction, increases flexibility and resilience, facilitate open collaborative design, and allows greater market and customer insight. Increased competitiveness needs to be at the heart of ROI thinking and the holistic benefits fully understood.

Once priorities have been determined, funding must be secured. Securing funding is one of the main barriers for manufacturers when considering adopting digital technologies. This is primarily due to a lack of understanding of the benefits and the technologies by the budget holders.

It is therefore important that risks are identified, and risk mitigation plans put in place. Using Agile project management techniques can help mitigate these risks and it is important for the DTC to internally sell and educate on a continuous basis.

Cultural Shift

The importance of whole company buy-in cannot be understated. The stakeholder community needs to be engaged, especially customers and suppliers. Much has been written about how digital technologies will affect jobs and skills requirements and it is recognised that manufacturing will be one of the sectors most impacted.

Skilled resource will continue to be at a premium so the key is discovering how the talent you have in your organisation can be retained and redeployed to work hand-in-hand with digital technologies. As digital technologies take over mundane repetitive tasks and provide fast insights and information that supports cognitive thinking employers will need to think about how they tap into the unique creativity, emotional intelligence and intuitive skills that humans have.

Plan and Execute

Adopting digital technologies is a step-by-step approach implementing the highest priority uses first. A key to successfully implementing digital technologies is to adopt Agile Project Management techniques.

This allows you to break down the implementation into short steps, ‘sprints’ and to get things working quickly by building Minimal Viable Products (MVP) then expanding on them.

Also, it is important to try out before scaling up. Establish a single Cobot cell before implementing throughout the factory. But this is obvious.

At T-DAB we like to undertake a discovery phase first so that we can assess the requirements, uncover the data, and develop an agile plan with an optimum route to success. Discovery phases are an important step in mitigating risk.

Without access to your data inside and outside the factory, you will struggle to implement digital technologies as data is the fundamental element of digital transformation. Therefore, your plan needs to include the implementation of a data infrastructure which gathers the data you need from where, when and at what frequency.

You will also have to decide where you store it and how you protect it. If it is personal data, you will also need to ensure you comply with UK GDPR and/or relevant data regulations. Data has value and it needs to be treated as an important company asset.

As digital transformation starts to move forward, the shape of your organisations will change. Processes, roles, and jobs will change, and hence your old organisation structure may become obsolete. It is important to think ahead and plan what the new organisational structure might look like, and gradually accustom your work force to possible changes within your organisation, which may affect them personally.

To measure progress against your success criteria you need to measure the impact of your plan. The measurement parameters need to be simple and agreed by the whole organisations so all can clearly see the benefits. From this you will maintain buy in and be able to progress along the digital transformation journey. 

Revolution from Evolution

The small steps that you will take will be evolutionary but as they build you will change the shape and thinking of your company. You will truly create a revolution from this evolutionary approach.

To find out more about delivering digital transformation in manufacturing, download our ebook.

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