The 5 superpowers of digital transformation

Posted on 7 Mar 2024 by Joe Bush

Manufacturers are actively seeking ways to apply digital to their businesses but are usually bombarded with buzzwords and jargon whenever the ‘D’ word is mentioned. However, as Asif Moghal, Autodesk’s Director of Market & Industry Development, explained on day one of November’s Manufacturing Leaders’ Summit, digital doesn’t need to be difficult, and actually starts with five digital superpowers.

Whether the talk is of BC (before COVID) or since the pandemic has abated, the barriers preventing UK manufacturers from progressing with digital transformation have largely remained the same.

Two ongoing challenges related to this is the battle for skills and talent and the issue of time – particularly for SMEs, who regularly cite that while they’d be keen to enhance their digital capabilities, their primary focus is on ‘the day job’ of paying wages and getting product to customers. A third challenge, highlighted by many manufacturers, is knowledge; more specifically a general lack of understanding around the potential return from a digital technology investment.

powWhile the first two challenges mentioned are ongoing and are certainly not likely to be resolved any time soon, this third hurdle is one that manufacturers can do something about, today. However, as the saying goes, it can sometimes be hard to see the wood for the trees, and when it comes to digital technology adoption, companies are currently drowning in terminology and jargon, which is preventing the spread of knowledge and putting the brakes on manufacturers getting up to speed with what’s possible.

“There’s a massive demand and appetite for emerging technologies, and manufacturing is probably the industry that’s got the most to gain from digital adoption. However, within the sector digital is often viewed as ‘buzzword bingo’, rather than being a tool that can help solve business issues in the real world,” Asif commented.

The tipping point

Asif went on to explain that while manufacturing was unable to fully adopt remote processes during the pandemic (for obvious reasons), COVID-19 nevertheless hit the accelerator on the need for digital adoption and switched people on to the possibilities of what could be achieved.

“That one experience of remote, digital collaboration was the turning point which made people realise that digital could really help their business, not only through the challenges of the pandemic, but beyond; it made people ask: ‘I wonder what else it could do?’” Asif added.

Autodesk has seen appetite for digital increase across all manufacturing sectors and size of company. As mentioned previously, SMEs are often time poor when it comes to being able to embrace digitalisation. However, the flip side is that they are often far more flexible and agile than some larger organisations, which are likely to have more complex structures and decision gates in place, and are therefore a little slower to respond and react to what’s available.

Start at the beginning

As an entry point to digital, many manufacturers initially look to investment around hardware (new CNC machines, a robotic line etc). While it may sound counter-intuitive, Asif questions technology as a starting point, stating that tech hardware often denotes a massive capital investment, with often varying processes and grant funding hoops to jump through – and this all takes time.

boomHe highlighted that often there are alternative starting points which can be implemented much faster, at a lower barrier of entry and which often give huge returns on investment. Asif added: “Our approach is to put the brakes on technology and ask three common sense questions. Where are you today? Where do you want to be? And what’s stopping you getting there?

“Taking the responsibility to structure a conversation around those outcome focused topics, as opposed to technology, we have found that it’s been incredibly helpful for our customers.” This has enabled Autodesk to hold a mirror up to the sector and has helped to differentiate technology from outcomes.

“In our experience,” Asif continued, “if a manufacturer is starting a digital transformation conversation by saying they’re looking into an IoT strategy, ERP, MRP, PDM, PLM or CAD system – whatever it may be – it gives us a big clue that the starting point is perhaps a little too technology focused.”

Asif Moghal, Director of Market & Industry Development, Autodesk

The 5 superpowers of digital transformation

So, how can manufacturers achieve a clearer understanding of the digital landscape and simplify what it can do to help their businesses?

During his keynote at November’s Manufacturing Leaders’ Summit, Asif identified five digital superpowers that manufacturers can leverage that will enhance digital transformation projects without huge capital outlay on high-end technology.

Mass customisation: This superpower allows manufacturers to tailor or customise a product or solution to an individual customer, or segment of the market, but without the traditional cost overhead of additional engineering time or sales.

To offer a personalised product costs time, money and engineering expertise. However, with mass customisation manufacturers would have the ability to code engineering know-how and knowledge into a process and give that power to the engineering or sales team, or even direct to customers.

Asif added: “Research suggests that people are prepared to pay up to 20% more for personalised products and wait longer for them. Therefore, mass customisation would be an awesome superpower for a manufacturer – the ability to sell at a premium and actually have more time to develop products.”

Mass customisation examples

  • GEA: Depending on system complexity, engineering time has been cut anywhere from 30% to 80%, making it easier to meet customer needs.
  • Fosters + Partners: 3D printing custom building components helped reduce manufacturing time and cost by 20%.
  • Claudius Peters: Engineers used generative design to reduce materials by 25% on a cooler project.

Digital collaboration: The focus for this superpower is around improving the speed, quality and effectiveness of the way a company communicates with various stakeholders. Improving collaboration has huge benefits right across the business, from morale to productivity, innovation to efficiency.

This revolves around being able to digitally collect input from any project or conversation far earlier in the process, and then having the ability to validate that input.

Being able to validate and simulate customer requirements can also help identify potential issues that may render those customer requirements unattainable and enables the identification of alternative routes and methodologies.

bang “Sorting all this data digitally, validating it and being able to say confidently to the customer that their specification can be met is a huge superpower that could be extremely meaningful to the whole sector,” Asif continued. “We see a lot of poor communication and collaboration holding the industry back. So digital collaboration is always a brilliant superpower to start with.”

Digital collaboration examples

  • Benson Industries: Collaboration helped reduce design delays by 50% and lowered product errors by 40%.
  • Newag Group: There has been a 40% decrease in the time it takes to create, validate and gather feedback on rail vehicles.
  • Nestle: There has been a 75% reduction in the time traditionally spent on issues handling and document management practices through connected construction.

Flexible manufacturing: This superpower is essentially the ability to make design and manufacturing decisions quickly and schedule those in the right way, irrespective of what comes in through the front door of the factory and regardless of any cost or volume restrictions.

Clearly, if a product is low volume, but high value, there are going to be completely different manufacturing choices made than if the product is high volume, low value.

However, if a manufacturer can schedule those choices quickly and make informed decisions around mass production, subtractive manufacturing processes, using hybrid or additive manufacturing, whether to use automation or if the entire process is to be farmed out to a third-party along the supply chain, then that can be very powerful.

“Having the ability to flexibly choose your manufacturing process drives productivity, efficiency and increased customer satisfaction, engagement and performance,” said Asif. “Indeed, McKinsey estimate that embracing an agile approach can boost these credentials by 30%.”

Flexible manufacturing examples

  • Bright Engineering: In the last six months there has been efficiency improvements of up to 25% within the company’s milling section.
  • Briggs Automotive Company: A wheel has been produced that is 35% lighter than the previous version.
  • Ganas MFG: Expected scrap from any given sheet of metal has been reduced from 25% to just 5%.

Customer experience: Asif explained that if manufacturers can get those first three digital superpowers correct, then the journey automatically leads into digital superpower number four, customer experience; in other words, understanding beyond price and quality, what customers really value and delivering that more effectively.

He added: “If I collaborated with a customer on the development of a project, involved them at each stage of the process and constantly kept them up to date, then the level of experience would go up. If I could then flexibly manufacture that product to be just what was required in terms of size, quantity, volume, cost and quality, I then start to be incredibly valuable to that business.”

This can go far beyond the pre-sales development or manufacturing process. It’s what happens before and during the lifecycle of that customer, and even what happens afterwards.

Customer experience examples

  • Hosokawa Micron: Demonstrating live changes in real-time has cut four to six weeks off delivery times.
  • Siemens: Using VR to show nontechnical stakeholders the company’s rail solutions has provided key decision makers with an intuitive experience and a diverse range of design options.
  • Skoda: Customers are now able to load images in just 1.5 seconds; two times faster than was previously possible.

Smart services: The last digital superpower is all about putting data at the centre of business operations and using it to develop a range of insight-based value added services for both internal and external stakeholders and customers.

Far from jumping straight into the world of IoT, this is about building a solid data platform and business foundation and getting used to drawing insight from it. Asif added: “The benefits of adopting this approach can achieve double digit growth, business stability and agility, plus the ability to pivot and respond much faster based on early warning signs of emerging trends. Not only is this insight entirely based on data but it turns it into actionable information.”

Smart services examples

  • dormakaba: This approach has enabled the company to pivot from being a component manufacturer to a solution provider for smart networked access systems.
  • Steve Vick International: New service-based revenues have been developed that were not possible through a traditional product only focused approach.

Asif stressed that none of these five superpowers have anything to do with technology. Rather, they are capabilities, and if manufacturers can switch on one, some or all five inside their organisations, that starts the digital transformation journey, and in many cases, begins a chain reaction of change.


Top tips

When speaking about how to maximise engagement in these digital superpowers throughout an organisation, Asif highlighted that everyone has their own opinion, different departments in the business can often see others as the source of bottlenecks and the HiPPO (highest paid person’s opinion), can dominate the agenda.

Therefore, getting teams to collaborate is one of the areas Asif sees as a potential game changer. “The barriers to entry around digital transformation aren’t as high as people might think,” he continued.

“These superpowers can be implemented very easily but it does mean that change is going to happen – and that can be scary. It’s always strange, as a technology vendor, to talk about change management, people and processes. However, the most successful projects we’ve seen are where organisations have brought their people along on the journey.

“Change can happen quickly, but unless there’s employee buy-in, readiness and clear alignment around company goals, then even the simplest of transformations can fail. It just shows how important people are to the whole process.”

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