Brexit, the COVID-19 pandemic, climate change and other external factors are putting UK manufacturing firms under increasing pressure to become more competitive than ever. To compete on a global scale, UK manufacturers must leverage digital capabilities to improve productivity, eliminate inefficiency and find those all-important marginal gains. However, in a landscape of siloed data, unconnected systems and skillset scarcity, how can such a reality be achieved? By creating the Factory of the Future is one way...
In a recent Manufacturing Digitalisation Symposium discussion session, Tableau’s James Smith, Salesforce’s Robert Heys and Stanley Black & Decker’s Paul Turner were joined by representatives from leading manufacturing organisations to discuss how firms can remain competitive on a global scale by using digital capabilities to create the Factory of the Future.
Here are some of the key takeaways from that session:
What is the Factory of the Future?
James Smith, RVP Manufacturing at Tableau, kicked off the discussion by describing the Factory of the Future as a “convergence of digital technologies”; IoT, analytics, cloud digitalisations and more, all coming together to help manufacturers innovate and improve performance.
Paul Turner, Vice President I4.0 Applications & Analytics at Stanley Black & Decker, concurred, adding that the first piece of the puzzle was to “get the right data to the right people in the right format and the right context.”
By doing this, manufacturers will see the impact that data can have on the factory floor, such as increased efficiency and quality improvements.
Paul also highlighted how creating the Factory of the Future can help manufacturing companies recruit the top talent. He said that analytics is exciting and innovative, which makes it attractive to fresh graduates, who inevitably bring enthusiasm, curiosity and fresh ideas.
Prioritising analytical skills during the recruitment process is vital in creating an analytically-enabled workforce. While this may require sponsorship from the top of the organisation, he believes it truly is the way forward. Furthermore, initiatives such as graduate schemes that bring in young talent who are keen to impress and have lots of energy to deploy new strategies can be of great benefit.
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Creating an analytically-enabled workforce
According to Paul, manufacturers should prioritise upskilling their existing workforce. By empowering everyone with digital skills, the introduction of advanced analytics is no longer seen as a threat, but rather a valuable business tool with tangible advantages.
As with any major change, there will be some resistance — especially if staff do not possess the required skills and established processes need to be updated. Paul stressed the importance of bringing everybody along on your journey, engaging staff to help them learn the new technologies.
“It requires a lot of forethought”, he said. “It’s not just the algorithmic side of these analytics solutions, but the human side of how people engage with it.”
To achieve the best results, Paul said, it is important to involve all areas in the process: Design Thinking experts and UI experts, as well as domain experts. All these areas need to come together to build the bridge that leads to the Factory of the Future.
Paul explained how Stanley Black & Decker uses a technology called DeepHow to quickly upskill its workforce. The AI software analyses a recording of someone performing a task, before transforming it into short, digestible pieces of content that can be consumed quickly.
James was quick to stress that enabling a data-driven workforce will not happen overnight. However, the increased performance that can be achieved through the Factory of the Future is worth the effort.
Internal training or external support?
During the discussion, the question of whether it is better to use external support or train from within your company was posed to the hosts. James strongly believed that while the use of external experts is incredibly beneficial in the early stages of a transformation project, you should not use them to replace your existing workforce.
Far too many organisations can unintentionally rely too heavily on consultancies to deliver insights for the business, which is usually not sustainable in the long term. You need to build knowledge and expertise within your own organisation, otherwise you will always be relying on external parties to take you to the next level.
And there always will be a next level, James said. Creating a Factory of the Future is a constant journey of betterment and improvement, so having permanent and loyal staff that can take you on this journey is crucial. Not to mention, no one knows your business better than the people who work there.
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Making the Factory of the Future real today
In making these changes real today, Robert Heys, Customer Transformation Director, Manufacturing and Automotive at Salesforce, stressed the importance of having an “end view in mind and not trying to boil the ocean” from the outset.
He said: “Are you going to jump in now and solve all your problems with full blown IoT connectivity across all of your devices with blockchain? And with quantum computing sorting out and delivering new value in the next six months? No, you’re not”.
“Can you start aggregating some of these data points that exist already and start getting value out of them with solutions like Tableau? And can you then start evolving some of your operating models to enable a more data-centric mindset to start executing on that? Yes, you can”.
Paul closed by reassuring attendees that while there may be many blind alleys you go down on this journey, they shouldn’t be a barrier to starting. The value you can achieve will always outweigh the doubts and challenges along the way. Once your organisation and workforce see this, the barriers to adoption and change are soon overcome.
*Header image courtesy of Shutterstock