The disruptive speed of Industry 4.0 continues to push manufacturers into a digitally enabled future. There is no doubt that the pressures of the Covid-19 pandemic have exacerbated this pace of change, redefining businesses across the manufacturing sector in record time. Simply put, next-generation technologies promote an enormous competitive advantage: a smart, agile and connected digital supply chain. This can significantly increase a manufacturer’s capabilities to meet current market challenges and create more value for customers and shareholders alike.

However, there is a lot of discussion and debate on the subject of digital transformation within the manufacturing sector. To get answers to some of the industry’s most pressing questions, we asked four CCi experts to share their insights. This Q&A covers topics such as how to develop a digital implementation strategy that will ensure a smooth and successful transition as well as how to get the most out of the new digital technologies once they are up and running.

  1. Why does the shift from traditional corporate production systems to modern or digital operating systems seem more urgent now? What impact does this urgency have on manufacturers’ continuous improvement journeys?

 According to Glenn Leask, CEO at CCi, the application of lean principles in pursuit of continuous improvement has traditionally fallen within the confines of operations. Those companies that have successfully improved their operational processes and practices for greater efficiency have done so with the help of a corporate production system – something along the lines of the seminal Toyota Production System. Having achieved operational excellence, these companies are now looking at how to enhance their supply chains.

A digital supply chain is the evolution of continuous improvement (CI). The shift from traditional corporate production systems to digital operating systems (DOS) harmonizes lean principles with smart manufacturing. This integration of CI with digitally enabled agility, visibility and interconnectedness is crucial to ensuring future business sustainability. The urgency is real because today’s customers demand up-to-the second communication – and their needs change fast. The only way to deliver the desired customer experience is to digitally transform supply chains into end-to-end value chains.

  1. The new normal presents manufacturers with unfamiliar challenges. How can they navigate and overcome them effectively?

 As the new normal asserts itself, Tony Riachi, Vice President of Supply Chain CCi Americas, highlights two supply chain challenges that manufacturers need to address swiftly.

  • Workforce safety

The COVID-19 pandemic has transformed the workplace almost overnight. These new working and social arrangements are part of a regulatory response to stemming infections while keeping businesses operational. New regulations are still likely to emerge. This uncertainty is a real challenge for manufacturers who need to ensure that their employees are safe as well as able to perform their duties. Flexibility, upskilling and communication are key to maintaining productivity and readiness.

  • Ongoing disruption

The supply chain is vulnerable to further Covid-19 related disruptions. That said, other constraints – be they familiar or not – can and will happen in various shapes and forms. We cannot predict what lies ahead but manufacturers can prepare their supply chains to navigate ongoing uncertainty. Digitally advanced supply chains that harness new technologies such as the Internet of Things (IoT), artificial intelligence (AI), cloud computing, and 3D printing are more agile and provide manufacturers with greater visibility.

  • How does the next-generation production system work?

 Geoff Schreiner, Products Director at CCi, is clear that a digital operating system (DOS) does not change the fundamental purpose of an older production system. In fact, the key components of a DOS mirror those of a traditional production system. The main differentiator is data – how it is gathered, used and shared for enhanced operational visibility and real-time responsiveness. A DOS works with new technologies such as AI, automation and machine learning to extract accurate and actionable information from data for predictive, pre-incident decision-making.

  • What challenges can manufacturers expect when transitioning to next-generation production systems?

 Dr Dino Petrarolo, Senior Vice President CCi Asia-Pacific, cautions against adopting new technologies without first assessing the company’s existing digital maturity, designing a relevant implementation strategy and readying the organization for change. The transition process needs careful management. If the process is done too quickly it can actually reduce visibility and result in an obscured workflow.

An obscured workflow refers to a department or employee’s inability to see what came before a task is initiated and what happens after it is completed. Transactional operations are particularly vulnerable to diminished visibility, for example, blocked payments in an accounts payable workflow.

To avoid these potential problems, the digital transformation process must engage employees through human-machine interaction, bolster teamwork through interdepartmental collaboration, unlock previously siloed data and build on existing internal capabilities.

  • Has the shift towards digital operating systems influenced CCi’s product development? 

 All four experts agree that the market demands a simple, modern application that will support companies’ digital transformation journeys over several years. Thus, CCi’s product development focuses on assisting manufacturers assess their digital maturity levels, measure their DOS implementations and track improvement across their entire organizations.

At the end of the day, well-managed digital transformation strategies that are supported by the relevant change management tools will pay off and help manufacturers realize the benefits of fully digitized supply chains with less stress and minimal disruption.

For more insights and advice, watch this free on-demand webinar – Next-generation production systems: How to thrive in a digital world – now.

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