Industry 4.0 is set to drive significant, measurable change in the competitive environment of manufacturing. However, the route to becoming a smart manufacturer can often seem overwhelmingly complex. 

Simplifying the process enables manufacturers to cut through the confusion and fully leverage new technologies and the opportunities they bring. 

Let’s take a closer look at the seven steps every manufacturer should follow to turn their smart manufacturing dream into a reality. 

STEP 1: Identify where you are on your digital transformation journey

The digital transformation journey can be broken down into four different levels, from Level One where systems, machines and sensors are not connected, right up to the autonomous Level Four, where Machine Learning and Artificial Intelligence (AI) work to identify efficiencies, generate new settings and send instructions to machines.

Understanding the four levels of smart manufacturing will enable you to form a clear overview of the digital transformation journey and the potential benefits each stage could deliver. 

STEP 2: Make the business case for digital transformation

Digital transformation technologies have the power to streamline multiple processes and make significant efficiencies within an operation. Ultimately, your level of investment will determine your digital transformation strategy, so presenting a strong business case to decision makers who control the budget is vital.

The quickest way to get people onboard and excited is to focus on the monetary benefits of smart manufacturing. For example, new technologies can enable manufacturers to be more agile and responsive to changing customer and market demands, which can lead to a more lucrative business.

Reducing the unnecessary costs around waste is another key benefit of smart manufacturing. While waste reduction can help you meet environmental regulations and company targets, it also typically leads to a more sustainable operation. This will boost your business’ appeal to today’s environmentally-conscious customer and creates potential marketing opportunities. 

STEP 3: Educate yourself and your team

The quickest way to learn more about digital transformation is to attend tradeshows and conferences, and speak to peers and experts. 

Understanding some of the common challenges other manufacturers have experienced will help you  establish best practices. There’s no one-size-fits-all approach to digital transformation, every manufacturer is different, but learning from others’ failures and successes can help inform your own strategy. 

Many manufacturers make the mistake of focusing exclusively on new technologies, but the truth is that people also play a vital role in digital transformation. Look for key learnings around human resources and team structure, as well as technology.

STEP 4: Develop your strategy in collaboration

Work together with your team to develop your strategy. Identify the types of problems you want to solve with smart manufacturing, agree on a clear timeframe and set your expectations and key performance indicators (KPIs) accordingly.

Set out your plan on a master document, so that everyone is aligned right from the start. Planning your strategy as a team will help you avoid communication issues and encourage stronger collaborative relationships. 

STEP 5: Identify people and policies impacted

Once you have established your objectives and KPIs, you’re ready to build your digital transformation team.

At this stage, it’s crucial to have the relevant expertise for your specific Test & Learn project or ‘pilot’.  If your pilot involves Machine Learning and AI, for example, a data science team would be required. 

You might also consider working with outsourced technology experts or recruiting in-house specialists. Alternatively, you could consider working with an Industry 4.0 partner that can offer a production-ready solution.

Once you have your team in place, create a clear strategy and rollout document that outlines everyone’s roles and action points.

STEP 6: Select the right pilot partner 

Now that you’ve established what kinds of problems you want to solve and your team is aligned, you’re ready to identify a goal for your pilot and choose an appropriate Industry 4.0 technology partner.

When selecting a partner be sure that they have technologies and expertise relevant for your business. Our Digital Transformation Manual: A Practical Path to Smart Manufacturing has a comprehensive list of considerations for this step. 

Looking beyond the pilot, check if vendors can provide your business with support for every level of smart manufacturing, including advanced features like Machine Learning and AI. Successful digital transformation requires momentum and continuity, so working with the same technology partner throughout your journey is best practice.

Creating a successful pilot requires the right mix of people, processes and technology, so choosing the best partner for your operation is key. And don’t be afraid to do a test pilot with several providers. It’s encouraged and is the more effective way to see which ones can deliver on your specific needs. 

STEP 7: Start small, then scale fast to continue to evolve

Finally, after you have completed your first successful pilot, creating follow-up test-and-learns becomes easier, as the initial pilot informs the working structure. 

Expanding your digital transformation efforts adds incremental value and allows you to move forward in your journey. Aim to scale fast and build up your wealth of data rapidly, ensuring you have enough of the right data about the processes you want to improve.


If you’d like further information about the path to Smart Manufacturing, download our Digital Transformation Manual: A Practical Path to Smart Manufacturing  or request a demo to see how we’ve helped several customers on their path to digital transformation. 

Read more on what digital transformation is and find at where you are on your digital transformation journey.