In Survey, Early Adopters Say Digital Technology is Worth It

Reposted from advancedmanufacturing.org on August 18, 2016 by Dave O’Neil – Vice President, Advanced Manufacturing Media – SME

A manager at a large automotive parts manufacturer wrote to us this summer for advice. He was preparing a recommendation for his senior leadership team to create a new job position: a coordinator of manufacturing technologies across the company’s nearly dozen factories in North America.

For now, he told us, he was calling it “Shop Floor Technology Manager,” and this new position would oversee the coordination and integration of hardware and software manufacturing technologies. “Right now,” he said, all of the factories “are doing a little bit of something on their own with no oversight.”

The person in this role would need to be skilled in various manufacturing technologies and software systems and have IT knowledge, he said. Leadership and logistics skills would also be important. The manager asked us how others might be crafting job descriptions for similar posts.

We frequently hear about struggles to meet new demands created by the emerging smart manufacturing sector.

In fact, we heard a nearly identical story not long before at an event the Digital Manufacturing and Design Innovation Institute (DMDII) held.

The manufacturer of a well-known brand of home goods said factories around the world that make the same exact product all make it in their own way, using different technologies and strategies, resulting in a wide variation in quality and cost.

It’s a story that’s all too common: A lot of factories doing their own technology thing, even when they make the same things.

On the opposite end of the scale would be fully integrated factories all working on the same technologies and delivering a consistent product at consistent cost.

Imagine the potential lessons that could be learned by sharing data among these factories and doing what works best? Imagine the potential savings and quality improvements.

The time has never been better for this shift.

In the first issue of Smart Manufacturing, we shared some results from the survey we did of more than 800 manufacturing professionals—they represent a variety of company sizes, industries and job titles—as we prepared to launch this magazine.

The big takeaway was that 87% of respondents believe smart manufacturing technologies will result in significant changes within the next five years. Only 13% believe the change will take six years or more.

In this issue, we drill down a bit more into the numbers to explore some of the real challenges that exist for adopters of smart manufacturing technology and business strategies.

Almost half of those surveyed expressed concern they were behind in the smart manufacturing revolution. Those working at the largest companies—those with more than 500 employees—performed the best. Predictably, smaller companies were lagging.

We asked: How would you assess your company’s competitive position relative to using new technology in manufacturing? (One response allowed.)

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There was also a split when considering how smart manufacturing technologies are perceived in terms of adding value. The smallest companies—those with fewer than 20 employees—and the largest firms viewed digital technologies the most favorably here. Midsize firms—those with 20-499 employees—lagged.

We asked: How is digital technology or smart manufacturing currently perceived within your company?

While 24% said it is seen as a positive investment for strategic growth and 25% said it is a necessity to remain competitive, 12% said they would “wait and see” what other experience and 35% said it was not yet a company priority.

Yet most of those surveyed see value in digitizing manufacturing.

We asked: What do you personally believe are the 3 most powerful benefits that digital technology solutions/smart manufacturing delivers to your industry? (Check the top 3)

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We asked those taking the survey who were implementing or had implemented and were using digital technology/smart manufacturing solutions: How would you assess against your expectations for …

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There is a clear market divide when it comes to implementing these technologies, too. While 42% of companies with more than 500 employees have done so, roughly 20% of companies smaller than that have done the same.

We asked: How far along is your company in terms of adopting digital technology/smart manufacturing solutions?

Only 11% said they had implemented and were using digital technology/smart solutions. And only 16% said they were “currently implementing” these things. A whopping 30% said they had not yet started on anything.

The companies that have implemented smart technologies have found the move has met or exceeded expectations.

Those surveyed cited a number of barriers to pursuing smart manufacturing technologies.

We asked: What do you feel are the primary barriers that prevent or show the adoption of digital technologies or smart manufacturing? (Check all that apply.)

“Lack of knowledge/understanding of solutions needed” was cited by 54% of those who took the survey. “Cost” was also cited by 54%. After that, “uncertainty of benefits/no quantified data” was cited by 46%, and “lack of skill set to oversee and manage implementation” was cited by 30%. More than 25% said “lack of corporate leadership to lead and plan a smart manufacturing strategy” was to blame. And 17% said data security concerns were the issue.

Exactly who should be responsible for getting this big shift in approach to manufacturing accomplished is still being sorted out.

We asked: What specific roles do you feel should be leading the effort for the successful adoption of smart manufacturing?

The biggest response (44%) cited “corporate/general management, while 23% said “engineering” and 13% said “production.” Single-digit percentage responses included “product design/R&D,” “quality,” “IT” and “purchasing.”

This article was first published in the Summer 2016 edition of Smart Manufacturing magazine.