Manufacturers face challenges in implementing advanced technologies. But a successful digital transformation is vital to generate new levels of productivity and competitiveness. Glenn Leask, President and CEO of Competitive Capabilities International (CCi), points the way forward.

The rapidly changing manufacturing environment, and the global context of hyper-competitiveness, means that technology must be used to its optimum advantage. But technologies, in themselves, can be challenging to implement. The rise of the digital factory, the escalating pace of technological advancement, and the intersection of technology with the evolving face of the workforce: These are interlinked parts of a complex puzzle.

And manufacturers are yet to absorb the full impacts of artificial intelligence (AI), which will again revolutionize manufacturing in myriad ways. Today’s robotics – very basic, early-stage AI – are fine-tuning efficiencies. Emerging, more refined AI is assisting the decision-making of managers, contributing to continuous improvement (CI) through advanced learning and subsequent re-adaptation of its executions. But where AI may lead tomorrow is, as yet, largely unknown – although the authoritative UK-based publication The Economist predicts AI will spur a 14%-16% ($13 trillion) spike to global GDP by 2030.

A leadership opportunity

Regardless, AI should not be seen as a technology tool; rather, its adoption represents a strategic, organization-wide migration program. Similarly, a full-scale transformation to a technology-geared enterprise is a strategic thrust of the highest importance. It requires a digital-first vision and the short-, medium- and long-term mapping of how this will be implemented. Think of this as investing in the future-proofing of the company in its ability to consistently enhance productivity and deliver ROI.

Building on solid foundations

Leask points out that as systems and technologies advance, so the foundations of best practices become even more important. “Digital requires management to assess priorities, to strategize, and to rigorously implement lean behaviors in a way which liberates the potential of the new technologies,” he notes. In that sense, CI is a bedrock for digital transformation – except that, in step with the progression of manufacturing’s importance within the value chain, CI now evolves to a more holistic concept: integrative improvement.

Leveraging digital for productivity leaps

The next generation of production methods and practices, known as digital operating systems (DOS), is this sweet spot, where lean, integrative improvement and digital capabilities marry. Harnessing new technology tools, comprehensive operational and information technology (IT-OT) integration, and advanced data analytics – implemented in real-time and often predictively in next-level manufacturing execution systems (MES) – DOS can unlock as much as 50% in productivity gains across a manufacturer’s end-to-end value chain.

How do you navigate the complexities and capitalize on these DOS advantages?

A top-line blueprint for manufacturing’s digital migration

Understand the starting point. Advanced technology implementation starts with taking a step back. Digital maturity is the goal – but, along the maturity spectrum, where does the organization currently sit?

This should include a review of the enterprise’s IT architecture. Are IT skills, hardware and software well-dispersed throughout? What is the status of integration between informational (IT) and operational (OT) systems? Does the company have a five-year plan to scale for innovation? Deep-dive questions such as these will ensure the right technologies are harnessed, at the appropriate pace, synchronized throughout the enterprise.

Map the path of progress. Undertake detailed implementation planning, spanning every business unit or division, and all functions. Pull together an executive leadership team; set timelines and milestone goals; zoom in for current fiscal necessities and zoom out for opportunities on the horizon.

Orchestrate a standardized and sustained implementation. Maintain the iterative improvement quest – and integrate it into the progression towards digital and DOS. Best practices, adopted diligently throughout the transformation, allow new technology adoption and related processes and systems the optimum prospect of success.

Manufacturing companies should be preparing for digital – and beyond. Prioritizing technology investments, plotting their seamless integration within the enterprise, and strategizing how the symbiosis of man and machine can unlock innovation and growth – these should be near the top of manufacturing leaders’ agenda.

Indeed, leadership must embrace and steer the digital vision. By fostering the workforce’s understanding and buy-in, the organization’s culture is appropriately tuned.

Leask summarizes in upbeat terms: “Whether phrased as regearing for ROI, initiating an innovation flywheel, or unleashing new levels of productivity, digital capabilities will drive the future of manufacturing.”

Contact CCi for further information about how to implement advanced technologies in your organization. Or download CCi’s e-book The definitive guide to integrative improvement and the white paper Digital operating systems: The next generation of production systems to help prepare the foundations for your company’s digital transformation.

CCi is a privately held global company that enables organizations to deliver sustainable results across the supply chain through TRACC, a continuous improvement solution.