In today’s environment, the odds are stacked against manufacturing organizations that don’t adopt digital transformation.
This article was originally published on Quality Magazine.
Are you a digital transformation denier? 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.
If you don’t adapt and adopt digital technology in your manufacturing operations—specifically on the plant floor—then you are doomed to be left behind.
Where We Are: Manufacturing in a Dynamic Age
The business world is moving away from stable, predictable markets and toward increasingly dynamic and unpredictable markets. Consumers are savvy, demanding, and socially connected, and their buying habits are rapidly influenced by online trends. That creates huge challenges for manufacturers.
Manufacturers must also stay abreast of issues such as sustainability and social responsibility, which affect how consumers perceive a company and influence product purchases.
Add to all that the shrinking realm of global logistics and supply chains. Digital solutions are tearing down barriers and cost of entry for new manufacturing competitors across industries.
The odds are stacked against any organization that refuses to transform digitally in today’s market.
5 Reasons to Transform
The list of reasons to embrace digital transformation is long, but these 5 rise to the top of the heap.
Reason 1: Do More With Less
We simply need to do more with less these days. Manufacturers are constantly challenged to reduce costs within the business and remain agile in the face of a disruption.
For example, 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, particularly operational costs.
Or maybe your industry has seen demand skyrocket overnight. You still have to do more with less because you may be constrained by supply chain limits or disruptions. 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. You still need to reduce waste, energy, and resource consumption. You must become more sustainable, more climate friendly, and environmentally responsible. You need operational efficiencies to have competitive pricing.
And we need to do all of that while ensuring that what we produce is not only safe and fit for its purpose but also of the highest quality.
Reason 2: Be More Agile and Responsive
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.
We’re being forced to make decisions very quickly about how to adapt operations to cope with that uncertainty and volatility. The antidote is to become more agile and responsive. We need to reduce the latency between when we start to see market or supply chain changes and when we make changes on the plant floor in response. The decision-making process must be reduced from weeks to days, if not hours.
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 top priority. Regardless of the massive challenges in the industry, nobody—regulators or consumers—is saying, “Well, I know times are a bit tricky at the moment and a bit tough, so I’ll accept a substandard product.”
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. Your operators know the “personalities” of the machinery. Plant-floor supervisors almost have a sixth sense of how to run their production operations. And business strategy is locked in the heads of experienced executives.
But when a disruption impacts the availability of your workforce, that knowledge goes right out the door—literally. If workers are laid off or not able to be on the plant floor, then your company’s tribal knowledge is lost or seriously eroded. If you have to draft workers in from different lines 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—it’s a massive risk for manufacturers. So, how do you solve that?
The Move Away from Tribal Knowledge
To codify and document that tribal knowledge into facts, you must take a cold, hard look at the reality of your production environment. When you have the data, analytics, and intelligence you need to make fact-based decisions, you can quickly understand 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. Some manufacturering leaders frown at this because they believe it imposes a culture of rigidity and inflexibility. 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.
Reason 5: Remote is the New Reality
Almost overnight, manufacturers have become a remote-working industry, or a touchless industry. They’ve had to pivot very quickly to enable non-essential production personnel to work offisite, away from the manufacturing facility. However, on the plant floor, many physical tasks still need to be performed by the limited personnel still available. So how do your remote workers access all the critical onsite information?
When we talk about “remote,” most people think of someone working from home, but that’s not the only scenario. We mean also “being remote from the plant floor,” in order to better observe social distancing, for example. Most manufacturers are restricting the number of personnel on the plant floor. 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.
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.
Digital transformation can help us address all these challenges, allowing you the visibility you need to move forward. And 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 and Beyond
The best way to achieve unification and centralization is via the cloud, in Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) solutions. The value and power of the cloud is that it is inherently remote and unified—and real time—by design. That is why many manufacturers are now embracing the cloud; they are taking seriously the need for digital transformation.
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.
Today, manufacturers are experiencing five-plus years of innovation on the plant floor in the space of 12 to 18 months. That’s 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 matches the requirements—and the urgency—we’re experiencing now.
Stop being a digital transformation denier. It’s time to take your organization to the next level. Rise up to the cloud.
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