5 Steps to Selecting the Right Technology for Manufacturing Operations

Digital Manufacturing Technology Checklist

In manufacturing, as in many areas of life, digital technology and Industrial IoT adoption is often driven by trends, advertising and word of mouth more than actual needs. For manufacturing operations this reality is problematic for a number of reasons. In recent posts, we’ve discussed how manufacturers can end up on digital roads to nowhere and explored how organizational mindsets around technology impact operations for better or worse. But even if you are aware of the potential pitfalls of poor technology related decisions, the fact remains that it’s very difficult, if not impossible, to make effective technology decisions if you’re not asking the right questions to begin with. Part of the challenge is knowing where to begin.

First, forget about technology…

When there’s a lot of industry buzz about a particular technology, such as analytics, it’s easy to get caught up in the hype and start looking for ways you might employ that new technology. But chasing technology is almost never as rewarding as chasing business value. So rather than starting with your eye on a particular technology, it’s more effective to begin by considering specific problems or opportunities in the business and looking for ways to address them. We refer to this as “identifying capabilities.” In other words, what do you want the technology to achieve for your business? Greater production or productivity, reduced operating expenses, and higher quality are just of the few objectives that drive the capabilities and use cases.

We believe that:

  • Goals and objectives drive capabilities
  • Capabilities drive use cases
  • Use cases drive technology
  • Technology drives vendor selection

This brief checklist is designed to lead you down the right path.  

5 steps to effectively choosing technology for your operations

  1. Define Your Strategy and Objectives: What is it you want the business to do that it can’t do today and/or what do you want to improve? Do your answers align with the latest corporate strategy?
  2. Identify Capabilities:  Specifically, what is it that you want to be able to do that you’re not doing today? Is it achieving a new level of productivity and efficiency? Adding a new differentiating capability to your product? Developing new products? Realizing greater manufacturing agility? What capabilities will help you meet the company objectives?
  3. Do the Research:  What capabilities are available that might enable you to meet your objectives? Look at all capabilities and vendors that seem relevant to get a sense of what is possible. Develop a ranking system to help prioritize where you should spend additional time investigating.
  4. Review the Use Cases: Look at the available products and services and consider the use cases that might be possible when relying on each capability, technology, or vendor. Based on your research can the technology support the use cases that create this capability?
  5. Select Technologies and Vendors: Begin with a long list of all of the available technologies/vendors/offerings and analyze how each would meet your needs. The criteria may be different for each company, but what’s important is finding demonstrated capabilities from a reliable vendor.

Keep in mind that improving things like productivity, throughput or quality often involves incremental steps and technology may not be the best first choice for solving a problem or providing a solution. In many cases—and especially in the absence of at least basic continuous improvement efforts—you may be able to make quicker and greater gains by addressing people- and process-related issues first.

Take the example of purchasing a vision system to monitor quality of products coming through the production line. Before installing that type of system, there are lots questions you should be asking: Have basic continuous improvement methodologies been applied (Lean, Six Sigma)? What’s the best the process can do? Why can’t we close the gap from current performance to “best” performance? Have we given our operations team the tools needed for success? How will the success of the new technology be determined? How do we quantitatively measure success? How do we bring the entire team onboard for best success? In other words, it’s best to figure out where the problem areas are, then identify the root cause and then decide how to address the issue(s). Sometimes initial steps may involve new technologies, and sometimes a new technology can wait until you’ve addressed a series of people- or process-related issues.

Finding the best-fitting solution

Once you have a clear idea of the type of solution that you need and why, much of the hardest work is done. But it’s not over. Your next challenge is sorting through the options from multiple technology vendors and figuring out which one makes the most sense for your operations. That’s an entirely different process, which we will explore in an upcoming post.

Transparency and visibility into what’s happening in operations from the top floor to the shop floor is critical for all manufacturers today. You need to have data available that helps you determine where you are, where you want to go, and how well you’re progressing with initiatives and goals. Dploy Solutions provides the insights you need to understand what’s happening in your operations, from equipment, processes and people, so you can make better decisions about what you should be doing next and why.

About the Author

As Managing Director, Technology for Dploy Solutions, a TBM Consulting Group company, Brian Tilley combines client facing consulting and advisory with his many years of “boots on the ground” to lead product development and drive growth for TBM’s web-based software, Dploy® Solutions. Brian brings deep experience leading teams involved with Industry 4.0, the industrial internet of things, analytics and digitization implementations in manufacturing companies.

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