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How mid-sized manufacturers should consider digitalization case studies

Oct. 13, 2021

Manufacturers are keen to tell their peers about solutions that have brought them success. Take advantage of that. 

FactoryEye's Terri Ghio

In the unique post-pandemic manufacturing space, mid-sized manufacturers are looking for ways to improve and update processes without providing undue strain on production or employees. Many employees have been retiring or leaving thanks to “The Great Resignation,” but smart manufacturing keeps processes on the factory floor organized and stable even with new employees.

Thoughtfully incorporating 4.0 technology throughout production will increase efficiency and processing time. We all know this. But how do manufacturers know what upgrades will be most beneficial on their factory floor?

Mid-sized manufacturers should take advantage of experiences from early adopters who have published case studies outlining their digital-transformation successes and lessons learned. Many industry leaders embraced the design principles of 4.0 since they were published more than a decade ago. Today mid-sized manufacturers are well positioned to take advantage of the knowledge that has been gained from early 4.0 successes—the wider adoption of many of the enabling technologies, and the substantially lower costs of acquisition and implementation.

Manufacturers who are considering Industry 4.0 should narrow down their list of potential vendors and then meet with them, since team chemistry is critical for implementing new processes.

So, what criteria should mid-sized manufacturers focus on when reviewing case studies from early adopters, and as they consider 4.0 solutions for their own operations? Let’s consider…

Consider this: What motivated the company to pursue an Industry 4.0 solution? Was it about tackling in-house issues or to gain a competitive advantage?

Gain a clear understanding of what the company was trying to accomplish and determine if you are facing similar challenges featured in the case study. Identify the pain points that you expect to address with your 4.0 solution, as you should expect to see the greatest return on investment by focusing in these areas. If you are able to talk to manufacturers, it is helpful to understand what unexpected benefits they saw. For example, Industry 4.0 can give operators more visibility and control since they can utilize the operator console and mobile devices.

Factory workers can now use technology to be responsible for a broader range of tasks, and these opportunities can attract the new generation of workers to manufacturing. Traditionally, data capture for quality and production statistics was done with a clipboard. Industry 4.0 enables data to be captured automatically so the operator can spend more time on problem solving. Affordable tech devices, coupled with on-line training, can also help stabilize the workforce, and perhaps attract more unique, skilled personnel.

Consider this: How has Industry 4.0 brought continuous improvement to their factory floor over time?

Good things come to those who wait, but now is not the time to wait for Industry 4.0! Time requirements for 4.0 solutions can greatly vary depending on factory size, number of operators and even the pieces of equipment, but an effective Industry 4.0 provider can offer valuable partners and custom coaching to help customers leverage smart-manufacturing capabilities. Industry experts have discussed the benefits of Industry 4.0 at great lengths and, with digitization, organizations can become more responsive and adaptive to new circumstances and disruptions.

Many case studies outline how Industry 4.0 empowers employees, speeds up processing, and produces actionable data to improve productivity. Manufacturers need to utilize smart technology to pursue continuous improvement on the factory floor; case studies will showcase how this has been accomplished.

Consider this: Did Industry 4.0 bring measured improvements to their factory floor?

Prior to capturing real-time data with smart sensors, many manufacturers were relying on hand-written data that was neither accurate nor complete. Although OEE has been tracked for decades, it was not until the introduction of real-time technologies that various data points could be comprehensively monitored and adjusted during the production cycle.

Tackling Industry 4.0 is a major effort, but can now be implemented in bite-sized chunks to maintain even strict budget requirements since each measured sprint can pay for the next upgrade cycle. With recent technology upgrades, it is no longer a monumental task for manufacturers to move their data into new systems; smart solutions can be replicated to other areas of the factory, or even to other facilities.  

Often manufacturers hesitate to share implementation stories since they do not want to share secrets that could potentially give competitors an advantage. Alternatively, some manufacturers are simply too busy to sit down and develop a case study, even though they love what they have done and would love to share how they improved their factory floors with state-of-the-art upgrades.

As a close-knit community, manufacturers are keen to tell their peers about solutions that have brought them success. In the post-pandemic environment this has taken the form of webinars and forums where industry leaders compare best practices. With the help of case studies, and valuable insights from peers, manufacturers can easily scope out potential solutions and benefits for their factory floor.

Terri Ghio is president of FactoryEye by Magic Software Enterprises