The latest Director’s Forum Dinner saw senior managers from across industry come together to discuss the exciting challenges UK manufacturing business face on their “digital voyage”.
Organised by The Manufacturer, and co-hosted by Cisco and Tech Mahindra, the evening’s discussion offered attendees invaluable advice on how to start a safe, effective digital transformation, as well as how to identify potential quick wins and network legacy equipment.
Richard Grainger, Industrial & IoT networking lead at Cisco, got the ball rolling by noting: “At such an occasion, it is tempting to elaborate on IoT solutions and environments, but from Cisco’s perspective, it is far more interesting to speak about culture and innovation; how can a company drive these two factors in its business framework?”
Rajesh E.P, senior vice president at Tech Mahindra, said: “We have also noticed a cultural change in the industry, both at OEMs and in their supply chain. Tech Mahindra started its own digital journey with the aid of design thinking processes, an approach that helps us to better understand and support our customers.”
Grainger added that the debate around obstacles to digital transformation carries the risk of getting stuck in “thought cycles”, a dilemma which can result in missing out on seeing the bigger opportunity and take appropriate actions.
Think like a Jacuzzi!
The first step can often be the hardest, and many organisations struggle to get transformative projects off the ground and/or sustain momentum over the long-term. To counter that, one delegate explained how his business had fostered a more considered, ‘step-by-step’ culture; a framework that had reportedly proven successful in supporting his organisation’s conversion into a digital business unit.
A chief digital officer from an aerospace supplier added that his company is acquiring as much data as possible in an effort to fuel digital innovation in its manufacturing, R&D and sales units.
“We set up a hypothesis, then we identify distinctive patterns for possible value chains, and finally we apply the patterns to AI and robotics processes,” he explained. “We are following a step-by-step approach when structuring available data.”
The table agreed that the creative dynamic employees add to a project helps fuel the transformation process, with one attendee noting that a company’s digital conversion is not a “preordained path”, it needs bright ideas and people willing to challenge the accepted, traditional ways of working.
“We want people to be engaged and experiment. It is more about creating movements than a mandate,” he explained.
“The process is like a ‘mind jacuzzi’, i.e. things are happening around you, but not in a linear way. Don’t get me wrong, the culture of our company is linear, but not the way we implement digital technologies.”
Words like ‘experimental’, ‘non-linear’ and ‘countercultural’ cropped up throughout much of the ensuing conversation, not only in regard to thinking outside the box but also because of pressing legacy equipment issues.
Legacy equipment? Build a target around the project!
The Manufacturer’s Henry Anson emphasised how the majority of companies don’t have the financial capacity to remove their legacy equipment and start from scratch with modern digitalised or IoT-enabled manufacturing systems.
As such, there is a pressing need for organisations to receive greater education around transformation strategies for both legacy and new equipment; could this be a need that solution providers could help fill?
The technical director of a casting manufacturer described how taking a decentralised and non-linear approach had helped his organisation. The method resulted in the business building targets around a project, as opposed to setting up a plan for a specific goal.
“For many years, we have been manufacturing castings using the same equipment; then we implemented IoT sensors in our machines to extract data out of them,” he noted. “We picked one parameter and analysed what happened to one part, then we looked at the next part and so on. In the end, we identified patterns which helped to make complex manufacturing processes visual.”
IoT to determine the lifecycle of parts
The capability of IoT technologies to gather, monitor and analyse data in real-time and remotely can help businesses maintain their asset base more cost-effectively and efficiently, and better understand their asset life-cycle.
With the aid of connected sensors, manufacturers can gain a deeper insight into their equipment usage, output, downtime and part wear, as well as being able to detect – and even act upon – possible failures thanks to preventative and predicative analytics.
One manufacturer discussed how, when reprocessing used machine parts, businesses sometimes repurpose up to 25% of the components in those machines – depending on their wear and degradation and how far along their lifecycle they are.
By leveraging sensors and connected technologies, businesses no longer need to dismantle used parts anymore to determine the life cycle of its components, which can create significant labour and cost savings.
“IoT technologies can tell you exactly which parts were used to what extent and what the remaining life cycle is,” he said. “Digital twin models capture the information about how a part was made, its material condition, how long the flight times and weather conditions were. The information is available at your fingertips, anytime, anywhere.”
Blockchain – one answer to cybersecurity issues
As with any discussion around connectivity and data exchange, it wasn’t long before concerns around cybersecurity were raised.
Any company that shares information needs to have procedures and systems in place to protect that information, noted Ashish Ranjan, sales director at Tech Mahindra. “For manufacturers, the essential question is, what information do you want to share – and feel comfortable sharing – with an external company?”, he said.
“This is when the adoption of digital technologies becomes crucial,” Rajesh E.P added.
“You want to be able to have secure and safe supply chains and share data with other organisations, but are you confident and able to protect the data that you’re sharing? In that way, it becomes more of a trust issue than a security challenge.”
Blockchain technologies could represent one solution to the data security issue; however, blockchain has its challenges.
For example, by the very nature of how they work, blockchain networks could contravene the EU’s recently introduced General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).
The principal idea behind Cisco’s first blockchain solution, Grainger noted, was to make data and its changes visible to everybody.
He concluded: “The idea was to take all the data behind the manufacturing process and collect them in a blockchain base, for example, detailing who was making what, when, where and how. With a simple scan identifying and offering up all the information relating to any given part.”