Industry 4.0: Avoid the Digital Manufacturing Road to Nowhere

Avoid the digital manufacturing road to nowhere

Despite the promises of digital manufacturing, you could implement all kinds of cutting-edge solutions in your manufacturing operations and end up more or less where you started with only a higher technology bill to show for your efforts.

That may sound shocking coming from a software vendor, but it happens all of the time. Why? Because decision makers frequently confuse “digital” as being the end goal versus the means to achieving more specific operational goals. The fact is that having the right mindset about technology can make a huge difference in the value you achieve from it. Before delving into that more deeply, however, let’s quickly revisit the definition of digital manufacturing.

Defining digital manufacturing for Industry 4.0

In practice, defining digital manufacturing isn’t as clear cut as you might expect. If you run an Internet search on the term, you’ll find a lot of different definitions from technology vendors trying to sway you toward their way of thinking and solution. The definition on Wikipedia reads as follows:

Digital Manufacturing is an integrated approach to manufacturing that is centered around a computer system. The transition to digital manufacturing has become more popular with the rise in the quantity and quality of computer systems in manufacturing plants. As more automated tools have become used in manufacturing plants it has become necessary to model, simulate, and analyze all of the machines, tooling, and input materials in order to optimize the manufacturing process. Overall, digital manufacturing can be seen sharing the same goals as computer-integrated manufacturing (CIM), flexible manufacturing, lean manufacturing, and design for manufacturability (DFM). The main difference is that digital manufacturing was evolved for use in the computerized world.[i]

Concepts related to digital manufacturing are also always evolving and expanding. Recently, some of the loudest buzz is around Industry 4.0. Terminology and definitions aside, however, it’s important to recognize a few things:

  • It’s indisputable that digital technologies are making manufacturers more efficient and the longer you ignore digital or get it wrong, the harder it will be to stay competitive or even survive.  It doesn’t matter how small or old your company is.
  • Focusing on technologies that are getting a lot of press or that competitors are implementing is a recipe for a big fail, if the technology you choose is not backing up a larger well-implemented strategy.
  • Success with digital will hinge on adopting a solution mindset versus a technology mindset.

Adopt the mindset needed for a digital manufacturing solution

The third bullet above is critical to remember. Many manufacturers have gotten into a technology “arms race” of sorts where they get caught up in initiatives to implement the latest and greatest technologies. And although many of these technologies have strong value propositions and make good business sense on some level, they may not be what’s needed to address important operational issues or even move operations in a better direction. A solution mindset, on the other hand, is focused on key issues and goals.

Ultimately, success in implementing digital manufacturing technologies requires a strategic solution mindset that considers a few critical questions:

  • Improve: What are you trying to do that you can’t do today? What are you trying to improve that you think could be helped by technology? What capabilities do you want your operations to have?
  • Create value: What value do you want out of a new technology (for example, improved productivity, reduced costs)?
  • Prove and move: What types of use cases could you use to test the new technology?
Guide to Preparing Manufacturing Operations for Industry 4.0

Once you’ve answered these questions, then it’s appropriate to start investigating and selecting manufacturing technologies that could address needs or support desired capabilities. And that will put you on a road to success rather than some unknown value destination. Here is a recent briefing we wrote around digital manufacturing operations.

Read our next blog in the series on the topic of digital readiness, ‘Are Your Manufacturing Operations Really Ready for Digital and How Do You Know.’

Dploy Solutions is a manufacturing solution to help you move down the digital technology path and ensure you are extracting value from investments while optimizing operations. Contact us to learn more about our KPI Management, Strategy Deployment, Business Analytics and Factory Floor Connectivity capabilities.


[i] Digital Manufacturing, Wikipedia, 2018.


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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