When discussing the Fourth Industrial Revolution – Industry 4.0 – we can’t ignore the fact that manufacturers often struggle to convince leadership that data-led change is necessary, and that financial and cultural investment is required to make digital transformation a success.

Once you have won over the board, you then need to bring the rest of your staff with you.

In this post, I want to talk about some common challenges that manufacturers experience when planning and implementing a digital shift, and how to overcome them.

Start with realizing the value of Industry 4.0

Gaining company-wide support, especially from senior management can be a challenge, but as technologies develop it’s becoming easier to demonstrate the level of payback that digital transformation can deliver and build a business case for change.

The journey towards the utopian dream of Industry 4.0 – the automated factory – is a long one, so it is key to know where you are now and what you want to achieve.

Using case studies of other manufacturers, along with the advice of supportive vendors and consultants will help you to turn a few heads in the boardroom and build your business case for digital change. 

It all starts with education.

Be smart about Industry 4.0

Gaining a clear overview of the smart manufacturing space is important, but researching every technology on the market will slow you down.

I always recommend focusing on the big picture first, so you can hone in on the types of technologies that are most relevant for your operation. Once you know what you want to focus on, you can invest more of your time in detailed research. 

Attending trade shows where you can learn from industry experts and talk to other manufacturers is the fastest way to get an overview of the smart manufacturing landscape and get up-to-speed on different technologies and approaches. It also gives you the opportunity to find out what kinds of challenges other manufacturers have experienced on their digital transformation journeys and how they overcame them.

These face-to-face conversations can prove extremely valuable. For example, I recently spoke to a customer who told me that one of their key learnings was to spend more time with their team developing strategy and setting goals. The customer estimates that they lost around three months, because they didn’t agree on the vision and expectations of their transformation and didn’t write everything down in a strategy document, so everyone was aligned right from the start.

Take an integrated approach: Technology, people and processes

Technology is the driving force of smart manufacturing, so it’s common for manufacturers to focus all their attention on tech during the research stage and forget about the people.

In my opinion, this is one of the biggest – and most expensive – mistakes manufacturers can make.

Problems escalate when manufacturers lose sight of the people involved in digital transformation and neglect to define individual roles and responsibilities.

Avoid falling into this trap by setting aside time to consider your leadership strategy and how you will empower your internal teams. This help you define the policies and training you will need. This is particularly important when planning how you will support non-tech-native staff on your digital transformation journey.

The issues that come up at this stage will often be specific to the individual operation. For example, one of our customers wanted to enable data on-the-go via tablets and mobile devices, yet company policy prohibited the use of these devices on the factory floor. They had to work with Human Resources so that their policies and goals were better aligned.

Be clear on your goals 

Sit down with your team and discuss your overall strategy for the digital transformation.

Setting both short and long-term goals will enable you to start collecting the data-sets you need now and in the future. Start with one or two short-term objectives and set your key performance indicators (KPIs), then do the same with your long-term goals.

Understanding the different levels of a smart factory and what you can achieve with your initial – and future – technologies will inform your planning. We have a variety of quick-read resources that will help. Including a digital transformation guide/manual, which should help you set your short and long-term goals.

Once you are clear on your goals, set everything out on one document, so everyone has the same reference. Together with your team, define everyone’s roles and responsibilities and how you plan to work.x

Run some low-risk pilots to test your processes and technology. You can then demonstrate value, start small and scale up.

Moving forward

People often imagine that smart manufacturing makes operations more impersonal, but in my experience that couldn’t be further from the truth.

Smart manufacturing is all about smashing the silos, connecting machines and people and fostering a collaborative working environment. Getting everyone on the same page will help keep things clear and focused and get people throughout your organization excited about the changes ahead.

Oden can help you make sense of your digital transformation journey. Get in touch to see how we can help you set goals, demonstrate value and understand how technology can transform your business.