Like many other industries, the Covid-19 pandemic accelerated digital transformation in the manufacturing sector. Manufacturers had to cope with disruptions to the workplace and supply chain. They also relied on technology to automate processes and improve communication across the enterprise. Many organizations found they couldn’t rely on local spreadsheets and applications for management. The flow of demand and production signals left them unable to respond quickly. Digital transformation plans that had been a multi-year horizon suddenly became a top priority.
The simple definition of “digital transformation” is “a novel use of digital technology to solve traditional problems”. However, it’s not only about technology. The most critical part of the phrase is transformation. The goal is to use technology to change your organization’s operations, position itself in the marketplace, and deliver customer benefits.
The concept of digital transformation in manufacturing is relatively simple to understand and deeply complex in execution. Manufacturers are applying technology to reduce costs, increase agility, enhance quality, and ultimately maximize revenues. The use cases are broad, from workforce productivity to asset utilization to strategic analytics. In a recent survey, 68% of manufacturers reported increasing supply chain resiliency and agility was a top business priority.
Digital transformation requires rethinking how your organization delivers to customers and stakeholders. It’s not enough to use more technology for existing processes. Instead, it requires radically rethinking how the enterprise leverages technology, operations, and people to optimize performance.
Rapid technology development drives advanced applications such as artificial intelligence, data analytics, automation, edge computing, and decentralized management. To ensure success in the future, manufacturing technology leaders must explore the drivers and benefits of their digital transformation strategies.
Manufacturing Digital Transformation Focus Areas
We’ve seen dramatic shifts in the ways people work. This includes team-based remote and hybrid models and an overall focus on business agility. These shifts highlight the need to move beyond thinking of digital transformation as an IT challenge.
Business Continuity & Resiliency
The disruptions of the past few years highlighted the need to improve business continuity and resiliency. Global disruptions, from pandemics to weather events to political tensions, are a fact of life. While preparing for every eventuality is impossible, a manufacturing organization must have systems and processes to respond to events and continue operations.
Data generated from manufacturing and design can help improve product designs and factory efficiencies. However, the actual value is in strategic planning. 54% of manufacturers plan to use digital transformation to increase the speed of product innovation.
Leaders can use real-time data to make decisions that impact the organization in the short and long term. Data can reveal insights and opportunities in operations, processes, suppliers, and materials that accrue to the bottom line. Manufacturing organizations may be able to develop digital products and services. This can be done as separate revenue streams or as supplements to existing lines of business. Ultimately, technology empowers collaboration by connecting users and sharing vital information through remote meetings and conversations that generate ideas.
Paper-based systems and spreadsheets hold organizations back from leveraging the digital productivity advantage. Moving a digital workflow enables a company to automate many processes through artificial intelligence and rules-based machine learning. Manufacturing companies will be better able to match production cycles and product demand for greater operational agility.
Manufacturing Digital Transformation Best Practices
Organizations that have successfully navigated digital transformation challenges take a holistic view of the process. It should be an interdepartmental, strategic initiative that examines the enterprise from these perspectives.
This aspect must be in place before any technology implementation is even considered. In a recent study, 46% of companies identified culture as an impediment to transformation. The pandemic accelerated the adoption of cultural changes that would have taken much longer to realize. However, keep in mind that employees must be trained or hired with the requisite skills to fully make the most of the technology. Engineers must be involved in designing and implementing systems, and data analytics experts are needed to prepare, process, and analyze the flow of information flowing from the systems.
Simply overlaying technology to automate or digitize existing processes and products isn’t the answer. Some 26% of executives identified their company’s lack of digital transformation strategy as an organizational challenge. Companies are finding that digitization efforts reduce expenses while enhancing customer engagement at lower costs. For some companies, the plan has shifted from boosting profits to enhancing business continuity, resiliency, and agility.
Many companies fail to modify business processes or optimize connectivity solutions for broader applications, leaving significant value unrealized. Before technology decisions are made, the organization must review the procedures already in place. The organization must focus on doing the right things and doing them well. Automating inefficient or outdated processes will only lead to the failure of the transformation initiative. However, the analysis required to implement technology can overcome institutional inertia to leave behind the way it’s always been done.
Technology is perhaps the least complicated aspect of digital transformation after the other elements are in place. Adopting the cloud computing model for enterprise IT helps establish a platform for digital transformation. It pairs with edge computing capabilities through IoT (Internet of Things) sensors and rugged mobile devices on factory floors and warehouses that tap into real-time data flows for unprecedented visibility into various processes. The introduction of 5G networks helps companies implement or upgrade robotics and supports bandwidth and speeds to make decentralized decisions on the factory floor.
Industry 5.0 and Manufacturing Digital Transformation
Industry 5.0 builds on the previous generation of innovation from industrial automation that connected manufacturing machines to computers and networks, otherwise known as the Internet of Things (IoT).
Meanwhile, the next wave of innovation includes cognitive computing applications that make manufacturing even more intelligent. Industry 5.0 will enable machines to assist humans with IoT data and artificial intelligence. Cognitive applications drawing on IoT data and AI will make data more useful to people closer to the shop floor. The tools will help remove people from
routine and monotonous tasks and unleash their cognitive skills to bring even greater value to the enterprise.
To sum up, successful manufacturing enterprises will implement technology to further the collaboration of the human-machine network for greater transparency, reliability, and visibility across all plant functions.
The Role of Rugged Devices in Digital Transformation for Manufacturing
For manufacturers to leverage the abundant opportunities of Industry 5.0, decentralizing data capture with information and communication is one of the critical elements for success. Enabled by rugged mobile devices, manufacturing companies can move data intake and analysis as close to work as possible. Edge computing allows manufacturing to gather data from machines and processes and put it in workers’ hands in real-time.
Edge computing comes to life with rugged devices that can withstand vibration, temperature extremes, and moisture to enable decision-making on the spot. That immediacy enables workers to respond with real-time adjustments to ensure product quality meets standards, avoiding production delays and wasted materials. Moving the analytics and decision-making close to the point of action improves agility and resiliency.
Rugged tablets like the Android-powered Getac ZX10 offer workday solutions that combine the capability to survive rough environments with connectivity for today’s mobile workforce.
Ultimately, digital transformation has become a core business strategy to future-proof the organization and prepare for the next disruption, rather than having a “nice to have” perspective. Leaders must imagine what’s possible versus looking back to the way things were.