Digital Manufacturing Technology Culture & Its Impact on Operations

| September 24, 2019 | 

In recent blog posts, we’ve been exploring key considerations around going digital in manufacturing. Now that we’ve established that digital is not the end goal, and how to know you’re ready for digital based on your adopter type, it’s time to delve deeper into some key questions you can use to evaluate digital readiness. It doesn’t matter if you are a strategic, aggressive or conservative adopter; some organizational “soul searching” is always worth it because there is almost always room for improvement in how you adopt and use technology.

The following table shows typical responses to different questions to gauge “digital readiness.” Then continue reading about real-world examples of how different adopter types implement technology in manufacturing and the associated consequences or benefits they experiences.

Digital Manufacturing Readiness Questions

While all these adopter approaches can be successful, each has its pros and cons. The key to making good technology decisions is carefully measuring the costs and benefits of the solution. There is no substitute for a business case evaluation. Below are our recommendations in each technology implementation scenario as a best practice before making technology decisions.

Aggressive/Early Adopter

An IT department in one plant of mid-size corporation pursued modern technology and created a very comprehensive plant control network. As part of its efforts, the local IT department used technology platforms that were standard for the automation industry but were far outside corporate standards. Although the technology investment produced very good outcomes for the plant, at times it was incompatible with the corporate office’s strategy. On more than one occasion, network and software changes pushed down from the corporate office resulted in disruption to the real-time, critical operations of the plant.

Recommendation: As you are evaluating technology, ensure the corporate office is aligned with your digital strategy to mitigate any disruption to plant goals.

Strategic Adopter

Strategic adopters carefully plan their investments in technology. Nothing is rushed but they also understand there is a cost to delaying investments. In a typical scenario, KPIs are clearly defined and standardized throughout the company, so strategic adopters typically have the metrics needed to carefully baseline and ultimately measure improvements from technology investments. This type of culture carefully measures the current state and determines the value of “moving the needle” on one or more key metrics. The investment is proportional to the outcome (benefits) and decisions around scaling and broadening the technology are tied to a business case analysis.

Recommendation: Carefully document everything in your business case. Make certain to capture baseline data and earn support from the process owners that “these are the numbers.” Scale when ready and agree on what steps to take when the outcomes aren’t favorable.

Conservative Adopter

Many companies take a “wait and see” approach to technology. These types of adopters prefer to see a mature market for technology before they jump in. While this may seem like a safe approach, it is often too late to capture a competitive advantage. I once worked with a client on a technology blueprint and roadmap. They knew they needed to invest and innovate, but they were worried about taking several of the key steps in the roadmap. For example, although the key to success of their smart manufacturing journey was a secure wireless plant infrastructure, corporate and local IT groups were opposed to wireless technology at the time. It ended up taking three years for all of the key stakeholders to research and approve the infrastructure, resulting in a long delay to many of the benefits identified in the roadmap and lost opportunities.

Recommendation:  Consider a prove and move approach to your technology selection process. Use benchmarking and KPIs to monitor effectiveness and value to the business.  If you can demonstrate value to corporate and IT, there is a better chance they will be on board with moving forward sooner rather than later. 

Could You Be Doing Better By Shifting Your Approach?

If you don’t see your organization as clearly fitting into any of these categories, that’s understandable. Given the nature of manufacturing, it’s possible that there is crossover. What’s important to take away is that digital technology is not going away, in fact, it is becoming an imperative to survive among the competition. And, no matter what adopter type you are, there could be some gaps in the planning process that should be evaluated. If you are not sure where to start, it helps to talk to manufacturing process and technology experts, like the team at Dploy Solutions, to understand where you could make gains and how to go about it most efficiently.

In our next post, we will explore how to determine what technology makes sense for your manufacturing based on your organizational maturity with technology.