In Digital Manufacturing

Amid all the rhetoric and arm waving about digital manufacturing, data-driven manufacturing and digital transformation, relatively few stories have emerged about real-world projects.

There hasn’t been a lot of clarity on the types of projects manufacturers have launched, and even less on whether and how these projects are actually delivering business impact.

In my role as a sales leader focused on helping manufacturers address their digital strategies, I’m often in the middle of conversations on project priorities, use case selection, and plant readiness. Because no standard roadmap for digital manufacturing exists, companies are often uncertain around where to start and what foundational capabilities are required to succeed.

Most of the digital manufacturing efforts I see can be classified in one of five levels—which we call Digital Readiness Zones—with each successive level requiring higher technical and organizational readiness and offering the potential to deliver greater impact.

(1) Connection and (2) Visibility: Initially, we see our customers invest in projects that increase awareness and visibility of performance. This starts with networking the machines and ensuring that all data is being captured – an essential step towards achieving real-time analytics. Companies then move onto projects to create broader visibility into their manufacturing operations. This visibility lets them monitor actual output vs. planned, improve machine performance, and use statistical process control to provide alerts for out-of-control events.

(3) Efficiency and (4) Advanced Analytics: Customers with more advanced technical and organizational readiness are deploying projects that can deliver significant operational and profitability impacts. They are solving stubborn quality problems, reducing scrap, and increasing productivity by optimizing processes. We see customers tackle use cases like parts traceability and high-level defect analysis. As they move into advanced analytics, they can use predictive analysis to get advance warning of impending downtime or defects and can apply advanced statistical techniques (like multiple regression, factor analysis, decision trees and clustering) to identify specific root causes.

Companies that are successful in these projects need organizational strengths to match their technical skills. Organizations need the incentives and change management capabilities that align Operational or Site leadership with IT and Corporate to enable them to turn insights into business impact.

(5) Transformation: Customers with the most advanced organizational and technical capability have the foundation in place to transform their manufacturing operations. We are working with customers in this zone conducting analytics, benchmarking, and optimization across the supply chain, gaining unprecedented visibility into the operations of their far-flung plants, contract manufacturers and suppliers. These capabilities form the base off of which manufacturers can implement game-changing innovation in business models.

One of the most important keys to success is choosing the right projects for the right plants. Too often, we come across companies embarking on projects that aren’t appropriate for their specific plants and/or lines. We learned that technical and organizational readiness at specific plants or factories is a crucial guide to picking the right projects.

Sight Machine has spent the past five years helping some of the world’s largest manufacturers with their digital transformation journey. From this work, we have identified which paths lead to the desired destination and which run into dead-ends. We shared our learnings last month in the form of the Digital Readiness Index (DRI), a methodology to evaluate a manufacturer’s readiness for digital transformation and identify the projects likely to deliver the most impactful returns.

In upcoming blogs, we’ll share lessons learned from the front lines of digital manufacturing including why projects succeed and fail, as well as covering specific challenges our customers have run into.

Our hope is that by sharing these insights we help remove some of the mystery around how IoT is transforming manufacturing and in turn, accelerate everyone’s success.

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