By: Flexxbotics, July 2022
Manufacturing Digital Transformation
in 3 Pragmatic Steps
Conducting a digital transformation in your manufacturing company is one of the best methods for improving productivity, efficiency, quality, and profits. The benefits don’t just hit the shop floor but stretch throughout your organization.
You know your manufacturing company would benefit from a digital transformation but this kind of modernization can be daunting.
Many companies have been burned by previous attempts to improve their IT infrastructure, only to realize the results were not worth the time or expense.
We, at Flexxbotics, want to help any company starting a manufacturing digital transformation avoid the common mistakes. The secret is to take a pragmatic, scalable approach that can be adapted as you go and doesn’t require a large amount of time or resources upfront.
We believe that applying a three-step process is the best way to achieve your desired business outcomes. Read on!
Why Manufacturing Companies Should Invest in Digital
“The need for digital transformation is very apparent in manufacturing. Many manufacturing facilities still do things like print paper forms out and physically transport them to the shop floor. And a lot of knowledge and experience gets lost when a long-time worker leaves the job or retires. There’s really no backup for that, other than digital,” says Tyler Bouchard, CEO of Flexxbotics
On the macro level, the trend of onshoring and reshoring manufacturing operations has brought more investment, making the inefficiencies and “backward” processes more painful as companies ramp up production. Many of these companies will be looking to improve their digital infrastructure, and most of them won’t know where or how to begin.
Here’s a look at our recommended pragmatic, three-step approach to digital transformation in manufacturing.
This first step is the most important one but also the most simple: Start somewhere. Pick a process in your plant that needs optimization and develop a plan that states the business outcomes you hope to achieve.
Keep in mind that there are so many directions you can go in a digital transformation, you really want to know what your expected outcomes will be so you can develop and execute a plan that will be relevant to what you are doing.
Starting somewhere doesn’t mean starting everywhere. You don’t need to retrofit the entire facility or build a new one. Start on one work cell and decide the business outcome you want with just this work cell.
Remember, you are building towards something—you don’t need to achieve all your desired business outcomes right away.
“What you will realize is that once you do that one thing, success starts to snowball,” says Bouchard. “And what you thought was the business outcome you wanted might actually change once you do the first project. It’s something where you really learn as you go along.”
Once you finish the digital transformation on your first work cell, review what was done and how you did it, then replicate that method in other work cells.
When you start to see the results of your first project, you will have a better understanding of what the process is going to look like each step of the way and how the plan will take shape over the next few years.
But there’s another benefit—you can start using the data from the initial digital transformation project to improve the other work cells before you begin their transformation, magnifying the gains from each project.
“Once you have scaled this up you can get full visibility into what’s happening in each individual work cell, but you also see how these work cells are interrelated, and how the whole facility is performing,” says Bouchard. “So you could be wondering why your yield is down. Now you can see that production is down in one specific area, and this area is producing a significant amount of scrap. Now you know where your engineers need to focus their time.”
Getting Results Without Breaking the Bank
This is an important aspect of the process and why we call it “pragmatic digital transformation” because you don’t change everything at once.
Start somewhere and make sure you are using something that fits into your business process. You will inevitably have to change your process—that’s the point of a digital transformation—but make sure that you aren’t changing everything because all the hard work and experience you developed through using your existing process is the reason your company is a success. So you need to find a solution that fits into your methodology as opposed to redefining your whole process.
It’s like the scientific method. Try one process and measure it—did you achieve your desired outcome? Based on your findings, tweak the digital transformation plan before you try to scale up when you can see that it’s actually working.
We see so many times with manufacturers when they decide they want certain outcomes and then basically overlay a whole new technology, such as a large business system, ERP or MRP. They install the system, spend a couple of million dollars, and realize that none of the data being generated are useful, relevant or accurate.
That’s a tough lesson to learn, not just with hard spending but the soft costs associated with training and integration. It leaves a sour taste in a company’s mouth, which makes them shy away from any digital transformation attempts because of the pain of failed previous attempts.
When a manufacturer uses a more realistic approach to manufacturing digital transformation, all of this can be avoided.
That’s why we really advocate for the pragmatic approach, starting small and building up, because then you avoid many of the problems associated with a top-down approach.
You will be able to see where you are getting the desired outcomes, and know the process is repeatable—you can scale to other work cells, and get more out of the resources you put into your digital transformation.
All of a sudden you have a plan to scale this up to a full facility project.
By following the pragmatic method—Start, Build, Scale—you will see that a manufacturing digital transformation is actually achievable and won’t break the bank or reduce your capacity. And that sounds like a very good plan indeed.