Why digital inaction is putting you behind the curve

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Tim Coulthard assesses the latest trends as major brands and manufacturers start their journeys towards implementing digital transformation

Working with a community of manufacturing leaders offers a privileged insight into the major trends happening in industry. Some very clear ideas and trends emerged from my recent conversations with many of the global brand leaders in the network.

Only 12 months ago, similar conversations revealed that most manufacturing leaders had not started their journeys into the world of Industry 4.0. They were certainly aware of the major areas of technology and the general value they could offer to operational performance. Yet taking those critical first steps into implementation still seemed some way off.

Fast forward 12 months and it felt like a very different picture, as end users and tech suppliers report more action and progress on the implementation front. Much of the conversation was around pilot projects, proof of concepts and the subsequent need to scale up and out across the business.

This feels like real progress, and we’ll be conducting further research with our community to quantify just how much has changed. But the message to manufacturing leaders is that if you’re still doing nothing in terms of digital transformation, then you are now probably behind the curve. Whether it’s automation, collaborative robotics, AI, Digital Twins or analytics, the new technologies are getting real traction in industry in 2018.

There is a sense of pragmatism woven into this digital change trend. In global brands with multiple technology bases and manufacturing sites, legacy equipment demands flexible approaches. Leaders spoke of varied approaches to new technology, with manufacturing facilities hovering between industry 3.0 and 4.0, depending on the local skillset and existing equipment across territories.

In more established industries, I hear a distinct softening of long-held rules such as ‘no humans near moving parts’, suggesting a much more positive attitude to the implementation of collaborative robotics.

If you’re still doing nothing in terms of digital transformation, then you are now probably behind the curve

Underpinning the digital transformation piece is, of course, the leadership question. Do modern manufacturing leaders have the knowledge, skillset and change management abilities to drive real value from the opportunity? For example, there are concerns that acquiring more data just adds more complexity, so understanding which is the right data is crucial. The next generation of manufacturing employees may be as fluent in digital and data as they will be in engineering … does that require a new mindset in management?

Clearly, these are the questions that still have to be answered and we’ll be working with our community to tackle them. There are further opportunities to connect with end users and technology providers at our Manufacturing Insights UK one-day event in November.