Whether it is trying to coordinate a complex supply chain, finding enough skilled craftsmen, or staying on top of evolving customer demands, manufacturers are in a demanding business. Trying to modernize your business to remain competitive may seem to be a daunting task when you add in the challenges of the last several years: the COVID pandemic, global geopolitical turmoil, climate change pressures and the economic fallout from all of these. Here are three things to keep in mind as you contemplate how to leverage technology to transform your manufacturing business:
- You don’t need to know everything about technology to use it.
- You can’t figure out how to get to where you want to go if you don’t know where you are.
- Plans are useless, but planning is everything (Quote paraphrased from Dwight D. Eisenhower).
Focus on Core Competency and Partner for the Rest
As a manufacturer, you naturally focus on your core competencies and turn to partners to supply the rest. If you design and build aircraft or defense systems, you buy machine tools, conveyors, and other assembly equipment from suppliers. As an OEM, you often purchase sub-assemblies like avionics from a specialized supplier. You buy raw materials like aluminum, adhesives, and fasteners. When it comes to digital transformation, you need to behave the same way.
There is the temptation to think that because you have been manufacturing something for years or decades that you know the best way to do it. But when it comes to modern manufacturing technology, the pace of technological evolution and advancement is now so fast it is challenging to keep current. Trying to decide which technology to deploy and how to best leverage it to effect significant process change is much easier if you have a business partner that has been through the exercise multiple times before.
Most of us don’t know how to program the electronic control unit (ECU) that is the heart of any modern automobile, nor do we know how to diagnose engine problems when the check engine light comes on. We instead take the car to a dealer or a local repair shop. You need to think the same way about your manufacturing operations. If your plant isn’t performing the way you think it should, consider partnering with a systems and technology supplier or a services provider that has the experience in diagnosing problems and is familiar with the technology you might need to deploy to remain competitive.
The First Step in Planning for Change is Benchmarking, Then Plan Your Journey
Given the complexities of manufacturing today, many businesses struggle to identify what they need to do to truly transform their business.
Haphazardly trying technology to create “digital transformation” is like jumping on the first bus that drives by without knowing where it is going. By partnering with a supplier and/or services provider that has been through the digital transformation process with other companies, and possibly even in multiple industries, you can identify the digital transformation vehicle that will get you the results you need at a cost you can afford and in a timeframe that will meet your needs. The second half of planning your digital transformation journey is mapping out the path you need to take to get there. Just as in planning a trip, you need to know your starting point when planning your digital transformation journey. Process modeling of operational systems is a new and emerging field, and few companies have the skills or tools needed to do it well. Some have done it for their front office environment, but operational systems require additional expertise and tools.
This is where an OT supplier such as your Manufacuring Execution System (MES) provider has an edge. The modeling that is inherent in any MES application is an excellent environment to define your as-is condition. By benchmarking and documenting how you do things today in your MES, you have put a pin in the map and are ready to start planning the route you need to take, with the turn-by-turn directions on how to get there.
Plans & Planning
Dwight Eisenhower’s full statement on planning is, “In preparing for battle I have always found that plans are useless, but planning is indispensable.” The meaning of this is that you should not be bound by a rigid plan that was designed based on assumptions, but rather, use the planning process to build the knowledge and commitment of the team to achieve the objective. Just as you may find an unexpected road closure requiring a detour when driving somewhere, you may find a particular technology doesn’t work in a specific instance. In these cases, it is important to have a partner that has significant experience in deploying technology in a large variety of circumstances and is prepared to help you find the best path forward.
When you collaborate with your systems and services partner to define the goals of your digital transformation journey and the path you should take to get there, you are doing more than just ensuring success. You are empowering the organization, too, by providing the tools and knowledge to build a team that will not just win once, but repeatedly and accelerate long-term productivity.