5 Steps to Assessing Your Digital Manufacturing Strategy for 2016

Experts agree a digital manufacturing strategy is a critical component to success moving forward. We offer tips on crafting a successful strategy for your shop floor in 2016.

By David Oeters, Corporate Communications with CIMx Software

Experts agree 2016 will be a year of change for manufacturers. The actions companies take now will have a dramatic impact on the success, or failure, of their business in the future.

Quality.

Do you have a plan for success in 2016? Illustration by http://www.colourbox.com

Manufacturing thrives on data and information. Digital Manufacturing uses data and technology to empower and improve production outcomes through seamless communication across the organization, and workflows supported by timely and accurate digital information. IDC (International Data Corporation), an intelligence and analysis firm for the IT and consumer technology market, predicts 20% of manufacturing companies will import IT resources in 2016 for a digital manufacturing strategy. Other experts see a digital manufacturing strategy as a key to growth. According to Damian Hennessey, Commercial Director for Proto Labs, an advanced manufacturing company based in the United Kingdom, in manufacturing, “… there is a potential for a strong resurgence as it (the industry) embraces a digital revolution. New business models are being built around customer demand, production speed, and enhanced software programming.”

Creating a Digital Manufacturing Strategy

To manage change, mitigate risk and position themselves for success, companies must craft a digital manufacturing strategy for 2016. These 5 simple steps form the core of a personalized strategy for your company:

  1. Review your current environment and digital manufacturing strategy.

Before crafting a strategy for the future, you need to assess your current environment. How is work completed? How are you currently managing manufacturing operations? Are you collecting data during production? Where have you automated processes to eliminate errors and ensure employees are focused on value-added work? What KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) do you collect? Do you have access to real-time KPI’s? How much work is required to collect this data? Finally, how does critical information move through the enterprise?

Your goal in this stage should be an honest assessment of how you are currently utilizing data. Many times, the results can be shocking. Tracking data in a single area is relatively simple, but as you add pieces or areas to your analysis, the complexity increases dramatically.

  1. Identify weaknesses in your current workflows and digital manufacturing strategy.
Process Improvement graph.

The strategy you create now can bring you future success, or future failure. Illustration by http://www.colourbox.com

Every company will operate differently, but once you understand your current environment there are questions you can ask to start the analysis – how do you get information to the shop floor? Are you still printing paper build-books and travelers? How do you collect information from operations? Are you manually updating the ERP once work is complete? Look at the process you use to collect information and transfer it to the people who need it, including your customers. What about your supply chain? How quickly and efficiently can you manage change in operations? Often times you will find gaps and inefficiencies, and the potential solutions become the core of your future digital manufacturing strategy.

Even so, you shouldn’t set goals or requirements at this point. Stay focused on your current processes.

  1. How are you collecting, storing, and transferring information?

After reviewing your current strategy, look for “silos” where data can’t be easily accessed. You want an efficient flow of information through the organization. Difficulty accessing vital information at the right time and place is a key source of error and inefficiency for many manufacturers. Consider quality control – reactive quality checks conducted after work is complete result in additional errors and scrap. Does customer service have real-time information on production? Do you use information from the supply chain? Is vital data sitting unused on disconnected machines across the company? Do you have a single-source of manufacturing truth for your company, or does everyone collect their own “nuggets” of data they need?

A comprehensive digital manufacturing strategy should eliminate the barriers between employees and the information they need to do their work better, faster, and with fewer errors.

  1. How do you want your company to operate in the future?

At this point, you should have an understanding of your current processes, and there are likely problems you want to fix, but this isn’t a strategy. A strategy operates proactively, so calculate how your company could operate in the future.

Consider the opportunities offered by digital manufacturing. Is increasing production speed or managing change a priority for you? Will you be focused on eliminating errors and waste, or moving employees to value-added work by automating processes? Another digital manufacturing strategy might focus on process improvement by driving consistency across the enterprise. Each goal is attainable, and all have tremendous value. Prioritizing goals help you shape and refine your strategy, so you have a place to start and a direction to move, and allow you to implement change in phases. Once you have a goal, you know what problems you should solve first, and what can wait for future phases.

Remember, the digital strategy should align with the business strategy, and the changes you make will have effects far beyond the shop floor. Consider this as you prioritize your initiatives.

  1. What early, easy success can you find to jumpstart your digital strategy?
MES Success WEB 042414

Plan with confidence and enjoy a more productive and successful business. Illustration by http://www.colourbox.com

Start your project off on the right foot by identifying the low-hanging, easy-to-reach fruit in your digital strategy. You will discover relatively simple items in your strategy that deliver an early ROI to help pay for and enable later phases.

For example, paper is a source of errors and costs for many manufacturers. A paperless manufacturing system can be completed relatively quickly, depending on your current processes. The system adds value almost immediately and will become the foundation for your overall strategy, including collecting machine data via the industrial internet (IIOT) or adding visual work instructions. Automating quality and tolerance checks through a digital system is another relatively easy success once you begin collecting shop floor data.

Each phase of the overall digital strategy should build toward the goals you identified in the previous step, so selecting an easy success first should help build excitement in the organization for future phases.

Kick Off 2016

For most of us, the most difficult step is the first one. By tackling a larger project like crafting a digital manufacturing strategy into manageable steps you can deliver impressive results with less work and less risk.

Want to learn more, or see how a free shop floor analysis with a manufacturing expert can identify manageable strategies for your shop floor to enable digital manufacturing, then contact CIMx today at info@cimx.com. We’re always happy to help.

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