Manufacturing Innovation Summit 2018: Six rules of digital manufacturing

Posted on 25 Jun 2018 by Jonny Williamson

In his keynote at this year’s Manufacturing Innovation Summit, Dell EMC’s Nigel Moulton explored the rules that can be applied to help guide a manufacturer’s adoption of digital technologies.

Nigel Moulton – CTO EMEA, Dell EMC - speaking at Manufacturing Innovation Summit 2018 - image courtesy of The Manufacturer.
Nigel Moulton – CTO EMEA, Dell EMC – speaking at Manufacturing Innovation Summit 2018 – image courtesy of The Manufacturer.

Ahead of a packed day of roundtable conversations, Nigel Moulton – CTO EMEA, Dell EMC – took to the stage to deliver his Manufacturing Innovation Summit 2018 keynote.

The adoption of digital technologies is having a profound impact across all industries, and manufacturing is no exception.

With an ever-increasing array of choice as to which technologies to adopt and why, leaders need to consider which will be the most impactful and what KPIs should be in place to measure the effectiveness of new investments.

Furthermore, they need to consider the organisational changes that may need to be made to accommodate these new technologies.

To that end, Moulton had six rules to help guide a manufacturer’s digital transformation:

1. Engineer for simplicity

The greatest innovations and product designs of recent decades have all been driven by simplicity, he noted.

Technology-enabled systems and manufacturing processes have enabled this simplicity, without which companies and products would have struggled to achieve mass market adoption.

Increasingly, designers are putting pressure on engineers and manufacturers to enable the innovations they create. Again, technology-enabled systems and processes are helping to shoulder much of this pressure – typically, in a more time and cost-effective way than previous, more manual methods.

2. Measure everything

Technology-enabled systems are creating a deluge of insight-rich data streams for manufacturers to tap into and mine. That may sound like a daunting proposition for some organisations – particularly small and medium-sized, but the relatively low cost of data gathering, storage and analysis – combined with the marginal cost of measurement swiftly tending to zero – has seen the opportunity to unlock and leverage the value previously trapped in machines, people and processes within arms-reach of all, not just those at the top.

3. Embrace non-linearity

Executives gathered at Manufacturing Innovation Summit 2018 to explore the need to disrupt or be disrupted - image courtesy of The Manufacturer.
Executives gathered at Manufacturing Innovation Summit 2018 to explore the need to disrupt or be disrupted – image courtesy of The Manufacturer.

This is the most abstract principle, but also the most important, said Moulton.

“Non-linearity is hard to grasp because it’s not how we (humans) think. We are very good at thinking in straight lines – linear thinking; we don’t deal well with exponential outcomes – non-linearity.”

Moulton gave the example of a chessboard. If you were to place one grain of rice on the first square, two on the second, four on the third and so on – doubling the number of grains on each subsequent square, then the 64th square would have 18,500,000,000,000,000,000.

That’s a number that’s incomprehensible to a human brain, whereas artificial intelligence (AI) and advanced analytics thrive in that world. The amount of data being generated every second is swiftly moving us towards a non-linear world, one in which AI and machine learning will be increasingly relied upon to manage the quantity and quality of our data.

4. Prepare for abundance

The demise of 35mm photography cameras perfectly demonstrates what happens when scarce resources become abundant. We used to have to carry the camera, film was finite so we had to think before taking a picture, the film had to be processed – which required specialist chemicals, and 24-hour processing was considered swift.

The easy part was indexing each photo in an album.

Smartphones have effectively lowered the cost of taking a photo to zero – the cost of taking one is the same as the cost of taking 1,000. Conversely, what has become more difficult is the indexing – the sheer volume has made finding any one photo more difficult.

“What used to be hard is now easy and what used to be easy is now hard,” Moulton noted.

5. Act like its 1993

Twenty-five years ago, Al Gore noted that the ‘information superhighway’ (the internet) would fundamentally change everything. Speaking at the time, the ex-Vice President could never have known quite how on the money he was.

Stock digitalisation digital transformation digital technologies tech Industry 4.0 - image courtesy of Depositphotos.
The ‘digitalisation’ of manufacturing looks to be following a similar path to that of the internet 25 years ago – image courtesy of Depositphotos.

The current wave of ‘digitalisation’ sweeping through manufacturing looks to be following a similar path, and like with the internet, many businesses need help defining which technologies will be of most use to their organisation and how they can be effectively integrated.

6. Be curious

“The final principle is also the simplest – just be curious. This is not a time to delegate important technology decisions to someone else,” Moulton said. “Look at what your sector and competitors are doing. Look at what new technologies could offer. Above all, don’t be afraid to learn more.

“Digital disruption is an opportunity, but only if we at look at it in the right way. And you won’t see that way without being curious.”