29 June 2023
Digital technologies can drastically improve your operations. We’re here to provide some up-front advice to make your digital transformation journey a success.
As we noted recently, we won’t be talking about digital manufacturing at all in ten years’ time. It will go without saying. With the benefits digitalisation offers, it’s easy to see why – increased efficiency, improved quality and productivity and cost reduction, to name a few.
Often referred to as the fourth industrial revolution, or Industry 4.0, integrating the latest digital technologies into your manufacturing set-up is key to ensuring your company remains competitive now and in the future.
One recent example of the power of new technologies saw Midlands-based company Ramfoam increase their production of face visors by 300 times in just five weeks, to help the UK’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Through digital manufacturing and supply chain support from the HVM Catapult through WMG, Ramfoam was able to supply the Government with 3.5 million visors per week, becoming the largest supplier of PPE to the NHS.
Many digital transformations aren’t nearly as dramatic in scale, but they’re still invaluable to manufacturing businesses. X-ray protection manufacturer Raybloc recently digitally optimised their production with support from the HVM Catapult’s teams at the MTC, upskilling their workforce to bring expertise in-house. They cut their lead time in half, saw a 10% increase in sales and 10% reduction in costs.
Digital technologies can also make your production more sustainable, as the Alternative Pallet Company saw first-hand after working with WMG to use technology to optimise their production.
Not only did they reduce waste by 60%, but they were also able to repurpose the remaining off-cuts to develop a new product line to generate an additional £12,000 profit each month.
Most transformation plans, however, aren’t so fortunate.
Recent research suggests that 70% of all transformation programmes fail. If you try to do too much, too quickly, with poor change management, a creeping project scope and no support, your project may be among those numbers.
Good news: we’re here to provide some up-front advice to make your digital transformation journey a success. We’ll help you get a firm grasp of the challenges you may face – and how they can be overcome – before you begin.
If you’re looking at adding digital technologies to your production line or facility, the first thing to consider is an effective change-management strategy. Begin by identifying specific issues or problems that can be improved through technology.
Look at your company’s existing legacy systems and manual processes, and ask why they need to be updated with a digital system. Then consider if you have the capability to migrate these present systems into the new ones properly?
Knowing exactly which issues and areas require improvement is a key starting point. The next is assembling a fit-for-purpose transformation team. As well as effective leadership, employees from all areas of your organisation should be involved, from finance, marketing and sales, to engineering and human resources.
Ensuring each area of your business is represented and understands their role in your digital transformation journey will go some way towards mitigating one common challenge – resistance to change.
Most of us have an in-built fear of change or the unknown, and that can be particularly acute when it comes to a perceived threat to our role or career prospects.
It’s easy to see, then, how the introduction of new technologies or automation that replaces existing manual processes could be received poorly by your workforce.
The fact is, however, that these new technologies still need human interaction and maintenance, with input through touch-screens, tablets and other such interfaces. Training will be required – another challenge – for your employees to develop the necessary skills to understand and use these digital systems, but up-skilling your workforce should be viewed as a positive by everyone.
For that to happen, though, it’s important that changes are not imposed in a top-down fashion but through open discussion and consultation. Involving your employees in the discovery and testing process can help identify where improvements are needed and ensure the resulting solution fits their needs as well. After all, who knows your day-to-day processes better than them? Importantly, this involvement will boost employee buy-in and reduce internal pushback.
So, you’ve developed a detailed transformation plan, assembled a dedicated change management team and have got the workforce on-board. It’s a great start – but what about your existing customers?
Digital transformation can be a lengthy and complex undertaking – perhaps better thought of as a continual, open-minded and open-ended process of improvement. It’s essential that you consider not just how your customers’ needs may change and how you can continue to meet them, but how you bring them along with you on your transformation journey.
Many customers are looking for a partnership with their suppliers. To be a good partner, it’s important for manufacturers to be agile and flexible enough to make quick changes to the production process, optimise equipment, train staff and challenge their thinking.
Don’t just assume you know what your customers want – and will want in the future. Research the market and ask your customers how they think their needs may change, and which technologies you’ll need to introduce now to meet their demands.
As well as keeping customers happy throughout your digital transformation journey, this knowledge can also help your business generate an early return on investment to prove its value. But remember the quote often attributed to Henry Ford: ‘If I’d asked my customers what they wanted, they would have said faster horses’. In other words, try to think ahead of your customers and competitors when it comes to innovation.
Another big challenge facing many organisations during their digital transformation process is ‘scope creep’.
This refers to the often-subtle additions that can accumulate during an extended project, perhaps through responding to customisation requests and changing needs, which can cause it to snowball out of control.
Digitalisation requires an initial investment – albeit one that can be relatively small for your needs that could pay off quite rapidly – so sticking to the transformation strategy and maintaining control of your budget are essential. Having a set plan in place helps to avoid making decisions that bring little or no benefit but increase your budget and extend your timeline. It will also help you avoid adopting too many new technologies at once, helping your manufacturing business to adapt more quickly.
Perhaps the greatest challenge facing companies seeking to use digital technologies, though, is cyber security. Many digital systems are cloud-based and operate over the internet. Some may also have Wi-Fi or Bluetooth connectivity.
Data security and the risk of hacking or viruses are real, but security protocols are constantly evolving and improving to respond to developing threats. It’s important that IT security is built into your transformation strategy, that your IT staff are trained and able to protect your systems and that your business stays on top of the latest cyber security trends.
The good news is that facing and overcoming these challenges will be absolutely worth it once your successful digital transformation has helped make your business competitive for the foreseeable future. We even have some resources that can help you in that journey.
Modern technologies can give you remarkable insights into your manufacturing operations and provide tools to maximise sustainability, productivity and quality. But cost and energy reduction are other key benefits, catalysed by capturing your production data and incorporating artificial intelligence. Professor Rab Scott, Director of Industrial Digitalisation at the University of Sheffield AMRC, makes this clear.
“Over the next 10 years, the power and use of data will be absolutely key,” he says. “It’s not enough to simply have data, it’s about using it in the right way. Artificial Intelligence (AI) will be able to help manufacturers really develop insights into what their smart connected factory is telling them.
“That in turn will allow us to become more productive, reduce costs, energy consumption and carbon emissions. And that’s what we have to do – harness the power of data to become more sustainable manufacturers.”
When you’re monitoring energy consumption through connected smart factories, says Professor Scott, your data can have an immediate impact through actions as simple as knowing what equipment and machines to switch off when they are not in use.
If everyone turned things off instead of putting them into standby, the UK would cut 7% of its carbon emissions.
He adds: “The most important impact that HVM Catapult has in the manufacturing sector is making it more competitive globally. And that’s about enabling UK manufacturers to become better at what they do while reducing costs and emissions. An awful lot of that is achieved through digitalisation.
“So introducing manufacturers to the power of digitalisation is one of the biggest things we can do for manufacturing.”
We are committed to sharing our expertise with UK manufacturers to help them deliver more for their customers, staff and communities. Whilst the advice here will help you with your first steps, your full transformation project may need the specialist guidance from one of our 3,500 manufacturing experts across the UK to achieve the best results.
Each year, we’re helping thousands of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) to implement digital technologies and improve their business performance. Our support helps those manufacturers to transform the products they sell, the way they make them, and the skills of their workforce.
Get in touch now to find out more.