Digital Manufacturing: Get into the fast lane

At this autumn’s FT Future of Manufacturing Summit in London, it was a privilege to share the stage with some of the leading thinkers and practitioners operating across industries. There seemed to be a common feeling of optimism in the room: everyone is looking forward to seeking out the productivity improvements from the application of automation, robotics, AI and advanced analytics. And what is great to see that is that companies are not just thinking and talking about it, they are actually doing it. In an article in The Manufacturer, I talk a little more about what these leading companies are doing. They are slowly escaping what we are calling ‘pilot purgatory’.

When we surveyed more than 700 manufacturing industry professionals, more than two thirds of them told us that Digital Manufacturing is at the top of their operations agenda, yet far fewer have been able to get to full roll-out stage.

Across industry sectors and categories, industry 4.0 solutions are adopted consistently.
Across industry sectors and categories, industry 4.0 solutions are adopted consistently.

I explore in more detail what we believe organizations can do to navigate the digital landscape in the article linked above. In my talk I focussed on three things—there are more but I targeted 3 of the biggest headaches:

1. Be led by value, not technology

Successful Digital Manufacturing projects are laser-focused on real business problems. The key question is not “how can we use this new technology?”, but “how can we create additional value?”. Companies should be able to back up their answers with a detailed business case that balances implementation costs against value-creation potential and/or a justification in real customer/employee satisfaction.

2. Establish a clear vision and drive from the top

Companies need to look beyond their immediate requirements to identify where they can build long-term competitive advantage. Once they have defined their destination, they should build a detailed implementation roadmap and lead the digital transformation from the top. This should include the whole executive team and the company’s P&L leaders. And a senior executive should take overall responsibility to lead by example – at least until the mass organisation is aboard.

3. Get ahead of the capability gap

Successful companies recognize the importance of new skill sets in their approach to digital transformation, and the significance of an organizational culture that facilitates development. These can be developed through a combination of internal training, the acquisition of new talent, and collaborations with technology providers or research and academic institutions. A digital transformation has the best chance of succeeding in an environment that encourages creativity and supports innovation. The best companies are always looking for new ideas from their employees, their technology partners and the wider world.

A beacon of light

One of the most powerful ways to grasp the full potential of Digital Manufacturing is to see it in action. To that end, we’ve been working with the World Economic Forum (WEF) to identify a group of “lighthouse” facilities. These are manufacturers that are already applying Industry 4.0 technologies at scale. They have agreed to act as innovation hubs: promoting the benefits of Digital Manufacturing, and encouraging information sharing and collaboration among industry stakeholders.

The first cohort of lighthouse facilities is a diverse group, covering a spectrum of manufacturing activities from biopharmaceuticals in Italy to automotive components in China.

To be a little controversial I did highlight the fact that there isn’t yet a UK company on that list. Which organisation could be the first?

An earlier version of this post appeared on Rehana Khanam’s LinkedIn profile.

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