3 Digital Transformation Mistakes Manufacturers Make – and How to Avoid Them

Transition to digital manufacturing is often hampered by lack of strategy, being unprepared for employee pushback and data overload.

Everyone seems to be talking about digital these days, from Industry 4.0 to the Internet of Things (IoT) and how all of this is going to affect our collective future. Cloud computing, semi-autonomous AI, and connected devices are already with us and this trend will only continue, but for some reason, manufacturers seem to be lagging.

The term ‘digital manufacturing’ refers both to a suite of interconnected devices and systems – the technical backbone – as well as the organizational procedures that make use of these systems to improve performance and profitability.

While it’s clear that manufacturers in almost all industrial sectors need to apply a digital strategy to remain competitive, there are a few hurdles to overcome in this journey. In my experience, there are three major factors that are responsible for creating the most resistance to digital transformation. Here’s how to deal with them.

1. Lack of Digitization Strategy

Before investing in any new technologies or implementing a digital strategy, senior leaders first need to take a clear look at where the business stands and where they want to take it. That may sound simple, but it’s surprising how many skip this step or fail to do it correctly. Only when you can see the complete map of your business – not just the road, but the terrain – then you can formulate a plan to move the business forward.

In this stage of planning and analysis you may discover how many resources you already have, such as human capital, computer systems and software, and machine infrastructure, that can be repurposed or modified for a more connected workplace.

A clear strategic focus is needed at the onset to calculate what your costs are likely to be and the timeframe for implementation. The latter is quite important. Transitioning to digital manufacturing may take years to become mature and begin to return dividends. A realistic appraisal is needed to establish clear goals and to enlist the support of the entire workforce, which brings us to our second point.

2. Unprepared for Employee Pushback

The most challenging part of this transformation takes the form of communication within the organization. Every established company has its own culture, accustomed to doing things in a certain way. This inertia can be hard to move in a new direction, but that will only happen by clearly understanding and communicating the value of a connected and intelligent manufacturing center.

Process automation, machine learning and real-time data analysis all have a direct – and positive – impact on worker health and safety, reduction of waste, and overall improvement to the company’s bottom line. Therefore, everyone who will be expected to adopt to these new technologies and processes needs to understand how they can make their work easier, more efficient and more rewarding.

As such, manufacturers need to ensure that all employees are adequately prepared to utilize new technologies. Organizational leaders need to solicit the help of the HR and IT for ongoing training and orientation, and to cultivate advocates who can help to spread the message.

3. Data Overload

With IoT, it’s certainly technically possible – and even tempting – to set up a web of sensors on every machine and then start monitoring all aspects of production at a granular level. But merely collecting vast amounts of data is not necessarily smart or lean in manufacturing.

The trick is in knowing what data matters and what doesn’t. To combat data overload, manufacturers should carefully consider their organizational goals and determine what data will be used in driving operational efficiencies and improving the experience for manufacturer’s most important asset – the customer.

Manufacturers should focus on incorporating connected devices and pinpointing the data that will lead to a more intelligent enterprise. For example, while a digital transformation strategy incorporating AI and robots may seem appealing, these types of technologies may not provide the ideal functionality for a smarter factory.

By taking this approach, manufacturers can reduce the risk of overbuying digital technologies they may never use and won’t feel overwhelmed by having access to too much data.

By looking before leaping, manufacturers can ensure their facilities are agile enough to have a successful transformation. Digital technologies are changing so rapidly that manufacturers also need to be strategic in implementing systems that are flexible and scalable to grow with business needs.

With the right strategy in place that embraces digitization within the overall culture, manufacturers will increasingly see more streamlined digital transformation efforts with less resistance.

David Hunter is CEO of Star Rapid.

David Hunter is CEO of Star Rapid.