Zoe Jackson, Vice President Manufacturing and Automotive, and Graham Upton, Chief Architect, Intelligent Industry, Capgemini explore some of the common themes from the digital transformation in manufacturing roundtable discussion at The Manufacturer magazine’s recent Leaders’ Summit.
The Manufacturing Leaders’ Summit was held during Digital Manufacturing Week 2021, where 2,500 manufacturers gathered together in person. The Manufacturing Leaders’ Summit informs manufacturers on how to develop their business models in a practical manner. The event brings together leading professionals to share their experience and knowledge on making the most of the challenges we face and the opportunities that exist to ensure the future growth of manufacturing.
When it comes to digital transformation in manufacturing, the challenges along the journey are multifaceted and complex, and many businesses are in different stages of transformation.
At the Manufacturing Leaders’ Summit, we discussed this topic in detail with many manufacturers together with our co-host from Rolls-Royce – Rashitha Jayasekara, Chief of Digital Manufacturing. We believe there are five broad themes that came out of our discussion.
Challenges implementing Industry 4.0 technologies
Many organisations are pushing new industry 4.0 technologies but are stalling at the proof-of-concept stage. There are many reasons for this which include:
- A lack of initial strategy, plan and roadmap for digitisation. Instead, many of the initiatives are disconnected as point solutions and need integrating into the wider ecosystem
- Lack of understanding on how to scale-up the initiative, but then consideration of costs come into play as they can become prohibitive.
- Difficulties proving the return on investment and getting the wider business case approved
- Legacy IT systems that won’t easily integrate with the new technology.
- Fear of change: Technology take-up and adoption is a huge challenge for many organisations and in particular on the shop floor.
Setting up Industry 4.0 technology can be a challenge at first, but ultimately these technologies are designed to future-proof your business. However, just because you’re considering implementing new technologies, it doesn’t mean you have to do it in one big bang. You can simply start with what’s easiest to automate such as moving a box from A to B. Once you’ve got that under control you can begin to scale up and explore more complex forms of technology.
Technology Skills Shortage
One of the key themes that kept coming up throughout all of the conversations was the technology skills shortage. Most companies were highlighting that there is a lack of skilled workers who have the necessary digital skills to really harness new technologies.
One of the key factors behind this is the fact that experienced workers are retiring faster than new workers enter the industry. The general perception of the industry could be one reason why it’s struggling to find the right talent.
For example, people with Maths, Computing and Engineering skills find the newer technology firms more appealing so there is a big fight on to attract new talent. Ultimately though, there are just not enough people with the right skills to meet the growing demand.
There is also a divide between individuals who embrace new technology and those who treat advances in technology with suspicion, or try it once and put it in a cupboard. A problem here is that there is often a lack of understanding of what automation means for a business and how it can be beneficial to workers. Automation or robots can sometimes be viewed as being there to replace jobs.
In reality, this is not the case, robots are good at repetitive tasks such as welding, dispensing paint or moving parts from one location to another. However, they are not good at dealing with complex or delicate tasks which requires a high level of precision.
New technology should be perceived with a view to work alongside their human counterparts, by using a combination of technology and manual intervention, organisations can rebalance their operations and boost their productivity levels.
Having an effective communication strategy proved to be a key theme with regards to how you can successfully get your workforce and management team on board with the new technology itself. It seems there are a variety of different tactics used by organisations.
Some have created videos and uploaded them to YouTube, whilst others have used Poka – a software platform that centralises all of your knowledge, training and communication needs – and QR codes to show demonstrations or recordings of a problem and how to get around it.
Another strong theme was the importance of collaboration and more specifically internal collaboration. A common barrier we heard to digital transformation in manufacturing from our discussions was trying to get new technologies past internal IT policies, or just getting group business support and sign them off.
From our conversations, it became apparent there is a strong desire for a cross-industry informal forum where people can share challenges and ideas without intellectual property risk.
Maintaining a startup attitude can be the key to success
In response to the internal barriers, a lot of businesses had found a way around this was to maintain a startup mentality. They were particularly interested in how one organisation had managed to get some of the technologies they use through, by empowering their employees to write their own applications outside of the central IT functions.
The key here is to set up digital functions within the business and, whilst implicitly keeping them independent of IT, ensure that the processes conform and are endorsed by IT and it remains in control. These functions might focus more on innovation, or problem solving, but crucially they won’t require the direct involvement or buy-in of corporate IT, and vice-versa these functions won’t deal with the day to day running of IT systems and operations.
In summary, the shift to industry 4.0 and digital transformation in manufacturing does bring with it new challenges in certain areas where the industry needs to adapt. However, what is clear is there is no lack of appetite or desire to adopt digital technologies within the manufacturing world. Some businesses have powered ahead and are doing well whereas others are keen to seek best practice.
At Capgemini, we combine our deep technical knowledge, business capability and previous experience to help provide our clients with a solution to some of these complex digital transformation challenges. To find out more, visit our Intelligent Industry webpage.
About the authors
Zoe is Vice President and Head of Automotive and Manufacturing growth in the UK at Capgemini. Zoe has a particular focus on understanding the challenges of Aerospace and Defence organisations and helping them to develop and deliver organisational, process and technology solutions to improve their business performance.
Graham is the Capgemini Engineering Intelligent Industry Lead Architect and is an influential senior leader with proven capability in identifying, developing and implementing state of the art and future technology solutions at a strategic level within complex, multinational organisations. Graham has extensive knowledge in design engineering, manufacturing operations and industry leading digital advances.