I have found that manufacturers often have inflated views of their plants’ technical readiness for digital transformation. Even in plants that are relatively new, equipped with the latest machinery, and meeting the company’s performance requirements, I typically find key technical capabilities gaps as digital manufacturing projects get underway.
It’s important to understand that Digital readiness is not just about machine connectivity. There are a wide variety of technical considerations that impact the ability to successfully implement Digital Manufacturing projects. This is not to imply that manufacturers need to have everything in place in order to be successful, but instead, by understanding a plants’ level of your technical readiness, manufacturers can select projects that have a greater likelihood of succeeding.
The DRI evaluation questionnaire we work through with new clients (and which is freely available at https://sightmachine.com/digital-readiness/) allows manufacturers to evaluate the full set of technical considerations that impact project success. The questionnaire uses a set of readiness statements (e.g., “machine downtime is captured”) that prompts teams to evaluate a broad set of technical factors. For the more fundamental technical issues, DRI can serve as a checklist of capabilities, while at higher levels it can be a roadmap for future technology and skills development.
We’ve discovered that Technical Readiness capabilities are divided into three groups: (1) Connectivity & Accessibility; (2) Cloud & Security; and (3) Data Awareness.
Connectivity & Accessibility
This foundational level assesses whether data is being collected from sensors on the key machines and is flowing to a system of record. It also checks whether the right kind of data is being collected to address the questions a manufacturer has top of mind. Typical considerations include:
- Not only if the machines are equipped with sensors, but are they network-accessible
- Is data is flowing into a system of record / database
- Are key data attributes captured such as machine downtime, defect data, and part serial numbers or batch numbers with time stamps
Cloud & Security
While the Connectivity & Accessibility category checks whether the key data is being collected, Cloud & Security examines how ready a company is to make that data available for cloud-based analytics, including whether the necessary data security measures are in place. It recognizes and accommodates the need to segregate highly-restricted data, such as classified, ITAR or HIPAA data, which can’t be seen by people lacking special clearances. Technical readiness in this case is often impacted by factors such as:
- Is a system of record (e.g., historian) and other key data sources (ERP, MES, MRO, supplier data) securely accessible from outside the company
- Is there a clear policy for working with cloud providers
- If required, are data segregation requirements clearly defined and is a system in place to segregate sensitive data from routine data
This category moves further beyond the availability of specific tools into a less tangible assessment of a company’s understanding of the data it produces and its long-term strategy for managing manufacturing data. This category includes factors such as:
- Does documentation or expertise exists to interpret the data coming from the machines and how that maps to the physical process
- What is the organization’s long-term manufacturing data strategy: Whether the strategy takes a ‘data first’ approach that ensures manufacturing data is contextualized for use across a wide-variety of manufacturing problems vs. one-off efforts that require data preparation for each project.
As mentioned previously, not all of these attributes need to be addressed in order to pursue digital manufacturing projects. But, by understanding their readiness levels, manufacturers can select the projects that are likely to succeed in the short-term and understand what is needed to deploy more advanced capabilities.
Of course, project success is not determined by technical readiness alone. The DRI tool also enables manufacturers to evaluate their organizational readiness. We’ll discuss these organizational factors that drive successful projects later in this blog series.