What are the key Digital Transformation questions for European manufacturers?

Ashley Oulton discusses the core issues facing manufacturers who need to adopt digital transformation in an increasingly complex and dynamic sector.

Manufacturing Robotics Automation - STOCK ImageIt’s clear from my conversations over the past few months that digital transformation is the key area of focus for manufacturers across Europe in the defence, aerospace, automotive, pharmaceutical, food & drink and electrical sectors.

By implementing smart technologies, manufacturers are aware that they can increase their productivity and performance while reducing overheads and operating costs, and move towards a sustainable smart factory.

However, there is confusion over how and when they should be implemented.

1. What are the pros and cons of implementing a digital transformation strategy and what are the most common reasons for failure?

Successful projects begin with a business case, or in the case of digital transformation, a business-driven process to meet clear, realistic and tangible goals.

If it turns out that the technology and business processes are implemented without understanding how the business intends to take advantage of the system, then there is a good chance that it won’t meet the needs and will fail.

All stakeholders must collaborate and work together to agree on the requirements for the system prior to it being implemented.

Andrew Wall, Head of Project Data Management at Airbus Defence and Space sums it up:

“To be engaged in digital transformation is not about a transformation project, it’s about a cultural change.”

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2. A single source of truth: eliminating data silos

Data architects have traditionally created silos of data and this causes difficulties and delays for big data analytics projects when trying to access disparate data sources and it can be incredibly time consuming.

It’s therefore important to try and eliminate silos before you start out to prevent future problems along the road.

Big data projects require organisations to rethink their data access and governance process methods. In many cases, companies are having to recruit data professionals with adequate skill sets to implement and manage their big data journey.

Gerard Bartley, Global Master Data Manager at Jacobs Douwe Egberts explains that:

“Data management and data governance are critical, and without these firmly in place, business data is often difficult to use and expensive to maintain. It’s important to tame your data sources and get real value out of them.”

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3. What sort of savings and operational improvements can a predictive maintenance model produce?

The first step for many manufacturers on the digitalisation journey towards Industry 4.0, smart manufacturing and smart factories is to implement a predictive maintenance pilot using sensors fitted to machinery to collect data.

This can generate potential cost savings of up to 12% compared with relying on traditional scheduled repairs, leading to reductions of up to 30% in maintenance costs and 70% cuts in downtime from equipment breakdowns.

Marco Del Seta, Head of Digital at BOC comments:

“I’ve seen predictive maintenance models identify the need for intervention on critical assets up to a month earlier than would have typically been the case with human observation of critical asset data information.

“This allows both more flexibility to schedule downtime, as well as better opportunities to avoid critical problems arising, both leading to cost savings. The thinking is also that early intervention will, in the long run, minimise the occurrence of catastrophic events in our critical assets.”

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4. Which analytics tools should I be using to gain insight into my data?

Visualisation is a critical part of the process and allows raw data to be represented with images that allow easier decision making.

The tools for data visualisation should provide the capability to process multiple types of incoming data, apply various filters, adjust the results and interact with the data sets.

The advice from Stephen Sutcliffe, General Manager Supply Chain Management Europe, Nissan Motor Manufacturing is to:

“Develop user-friendly GUI dashboards so that data is quickly assessed and decisions are made promptly. Simplify the process and automate decision making to leave users to make strategic decisions rather than administer and interrogate the data.”

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5. How important is it to have a security policy in place?

Manufacturing companies are increasingly more automated and connected, and devices and machines are generating huge amounts of data that allow them to optimise their operations and increase efficiency, but this connectivity also presents the potential for risk if not managed properly.

Recent reports have indicated that cyber security hackers are not just targeting IT but also OT, which is essential for availability, production and the safety of critical infrastructure.

It’s therefore of critical importance to have an effective security strategy in place. Andrew Carr, Chief Engineer, BAE Systems Maritime, explains that:

“It’s important to control access and connectivity to your systems, ensure you effectively control both physical and online access to your IT/OT and regularly patch/scan all your systems. Consider the use of two firewalls from different manufacturers to make things difficult for potential hackers. 

“Digital transformation is no longer a case of ‘should we do it?’, it’s now, ‘how fast should we do it’.”

Ashley Oulton is Conference Manager for The Manufacturer’s Manufacturing Leaders’ Summit international series of conferences.


*All images courtesy of Depositphotos