Digital culture underpins innovation

When it comes to digital technologies, there’s a danger of being seduced by the shiny kit or dazzled by the data. Exciting business opportunities entice us, and it’s easy to overlook the people who actually make things happen.

The Made Smarter Review highlighted the need to upskill a million industrial workers and the importance of creating a culture of lifelong learning for success in a digital world.

Steven Barr and Ravi Gidoomal of Edge Digital Manufacturing share examples from their experience of manufacturers who are gaining a competitive edge by investing in their digital culture to maximise the value of using digital technologies.

Digital culture is a surely an oxymoron! People are not robots, and robots are taking our jobs, right? Wrong! Every month, The Manufacturer is a great source of inspirational stories of innovative manufacturers who have transformed their businesses with the help of digital technologies.

Often, their success is attributed (rightly) to visionary leadership or a revolutionary business model that takes advantage of that technology. But in our experience, there is always another underpinning – ‘ordinary’ people making an extraodinary difference.

Digital Culture - Experienced Automotive Designer and Female Engineer Works with a Concept Car Model Prototype Design Team Work People Innovation Stock - image courtesy of Depositphotos.

Innovation is a people thing, and this seems to be increasingly important as digital becomes the new normal in manufacturing. Or, as marketing guru Seth Godin put it, “No organisation ever created an innovation. People innovate, not companies.”

Four aspects of digital culture feature strongly in the stories we are about to tell of successful, digitally enabled business transformation:

  • Empowering people
  • Communicating directly
  • Learning collaboratively
  • Engaging customers

This article first appeared in the March issue of The Manufacturer magazine. To subscribe, please click here

Empowering and valuing people to lead the way

Specialist metal finishers Pym and Wildsmith have identified how certain types of technology could differentiate them as partners in the success of their OEM customers.

To achieve their remarkable vision they have invited people from across the business to take the initiative to improve key operations and external relationships.

Gripple’s headcount has increased to more than 450 over the past four years - image courtesy of Gripple.
Gripple benefits from an established employee ownership structure – image courtesy of Gripple.

“We recognise the power of digital to keep us ahead in our industry,” says Rob Taylor, general manager, “and it is our people who will lead the drive by putting customers at the core of our digital culture”.

Gripple, the Sheffield-based maker of wire-joining systems, has an established employee ownership structure. Special projects manager Gordon Macrae tells us that, “empowered and valued staff are encouraged to challenge convention, focus on innovative solutions, support each other and share through employee ownership in the successes of the business”.

Communicating directly for agility

Domino Printing’s ‘e-card’ system allows anyone in the operation to raise an issue or a suggestion using their smartphone or PC. UK operations director Carl Haycock explains that, “e-cards give instant visibility in an individual’s communication area, and quick approval for action and closure. Its simplicity and easy access gives power to anyone, including shop floor operators, to be part of the continuous improvement drive”.

The converse is also true. Poor communication stifles innovation. A senior project manager told us that while the team is keen to move forward with digital technologies, management is perceived to be the bottleneck, and people are waiting for clarity and a green light to proceed.

Learning collaboratively to maximise value

Collaborative learning is a key driver of innovation. A technology team leader described how they are proactively seeking out cross-functional input for smaller changes in order to foster effective teamwork ready for larger digital investments in the future.

IMI Precision is already making those bigger investments work though collaboration between sites and within the local workforce. “We are moving forward on our digital journey,” says Charles Bamford, UK plant director. “We now have a number of sites around the world using cobots to make manual handling safer and more efficient, and we all learn from each other”.

low-volume, very-high-value products - image courtesy of IMI Precision Engineering.
IMI Precision successfully collaborates between sites and within the local workforce – image courtesy of IMI Precision Engineering.

Another innovation is a Kaizen event focused on an actuator production cell, where operators are making fundamental changes to the MRP as well as in their own working practices to enable super-efficient Takt customer flow-pull.

Engaging customers with ‘win-win’ connective technologies like the Industrial Internet of Things and web portals make the exchange of information with customers more efficient and reliable.

PP Control & Automation’s employees are encouraged to think about their customers and how they can make PP even more effective as a supplier.

Supply chain manager Lisa Lawley has worked with key customers to develop a web interface that helps her to, “see into customer production schedules and help them deal with problems that would impact us at PP, as well as their wider supply chains”.

Pym & Wildsmith are not far behind the leading edge of excellence in customer engagement. Customer manager Stacey Keeling looks forward to her customers being able to track the progress of their orders through a shared view of the production line.

Digital culture, far from being a meaningless clash of words, is evidently a vital underpinning of innovation. Vision and smart technology selection only deliver the bottom line if our people are empowered and equipped to collaborate and engage with partners.

Long live Digital Culture!

EDGE Digital Manufacturing is the advisory services partner of The Manufacturer and an accredited solution provider of the Digital Readiness Level Tool. We can help you make sense of the digital landscape and find the right way forward for your business.

Why not take the free Digital Readiness Level Tool benchmark assessment and book a complimentary 1-2-1 call at info@edge-digital.co.uk to discuss the findings with us?

Follow us on LinkedIn to learn more about how we are helping suppliers, makers and their customers to make their digital breakthrough.

Dr Steven Barr is a chartered engineer and expert at turning manufacturing business strategy into tangible results. He is managing director of the not-for-profit community interest company DRL-Tool.org

Ravi Gidoomal is an experienced banker and management consultant who is focused on implementing growth strategies.