One crucial factor that often gets overlooked in any discussion about digital technology in manufacturing is ‘people’.
It’s easy to see why. The whole idea of using more advanced technology to streamline and automate everything – from production line throughput to cost-effective savings – appears (on the surface) to negate the need for surplus staff.
But robots aren’t taking over quite yet. In fact, they can only be as good as we make them (that’s why it’s called machine learning). People are still very much needed in digital manufacturing – but the skill sets needed are changing.
Let’s look at what’s happening right now and consider how manufacturing companies can meet the challenges they face.
No-one is better placed than the CFO to champion performance optimisation in manufacturing. Not only do they have complete oversight of business strategy, operations, and finance; they also understand better than anyone else the importance of both time and cost benefits, as well as the value of data insights.
However, they also appreciate the human cost of digital transformation – not just how to attract the talent needed to maximise its potential, but how to retain and nurture current employees in new ways of working.
Essentially, CFOs must use their breadth of business skills to make their voice known in as many parts of the organisation as possible. This means tackling cohesion and collaboration head on – and working closely with different departments to assess needs, wants, and targets.
It’s increasingly possible to use IT to get the data and insight needed to make different aspects of manufacturing work more effectively. One way that’s become particularly effective at driving this forward is to create a ‘digital twin’.
This is essentially a live, dynamic, and virtual data model of an entire operation. This could be anything from a product, line, factory, or even a city.
In manufacturing, the benefits of digital twins are numerous. They make it possible to get a complete real time overview of usage, assembly, systems, progress in different locations, and instant oversight of any issues arising.
Such in-depth insight allows manufacturers to do everything from forecast throughput and troubleshoot problems; to changing product designs, lower service costs, and increase customer satisfaction.
But where does this leave people – those on the factory frontline? Practical and mindset change are both needed to get things moving to optimise processes in line with the data gleaned.
For example, training may be needed to help employees break with established roles and processes – such as tracking products through different phases, or conducting on-the-spot quality control rather than treating it as a separate discipline.
Ultimately, IT can no longer ‘follow’ what business needs it to do; it needs to be on the same wavelength to meet shifting demands.
The technology needed to make that happen is available; but implementing it means developing the right business strategy, and winning hearts and minds from the top down.
In addition to departmental staff, CFOs need to work in tandem with CIOs, CDOs, and CEOs to drive agile business transformation.
This involves putting together an engagement strategy designed to encourage all stakeholders to get behind the benefits of digital manufacturing; and communicating the core IT infrastructure needed and setting out how the business will work towards integrating all of the necessary technology.
From a practical perspective, this means establishing endpoints for digital projects and understanding how to work towards them in isolated stages – through small, lower-value investments.
Where digital transformation is concerned, all factions of any business need to come together to understand the needs, requirements, and impact of any initiatives set out,
No single component can ‘fix’ things – it takes a combination of technology, data, and people. It means imparting skills and ensuring that digital side of the business can improve things for staff; rather than replace people in the ‘real world’.
Collaboration is key. But so is communicating the longer-term benefits of IT investment. For CFOs, this means having frank discussions about how automation, AI, and machine learning can help simplify and streamline all aspects of manufacturing.
Ultimately, being digital and data-driven is part of a continuous improvement process. There’s always room for that.