Implementing advanced technology in manufacturing is fast becoming an organizational necessity. Industry 4.0, the digital technological revolution of the current information age, is giving way to a new world of work that requires greater flexibility. Business leaders are challenged to take advantage of new technologies to expand operations, boost global productivity, and stay competitive. The impact of COVID-19 has increased the pace of digitization and disrupted workplaces everywhere, including the manufacturing sector.
To remain relevant, manufacturing operations must respond to changing demands by constantly taking advantage of new technologies and enhancing digital maturity. Continuous improvement is an integral component of the digital transformation journey. With technology continually advancing, companies striving for sustainable competitive advantage must continuously improve their technology implementation strategies.
The advantages of implementing advanced technology in manufacturing
Implementing advanced technology in manufacturing adds an intelligent component to lean-based based systems that increase speed and operational agility. This intersection between lean and digital is embodied in next-generation production processes known as digital operating systems (DOS). These automated systems offer transactional efficiency throughout the entire value chain. They allow business leaders to focus on strategy, people, and shareholders. With access to real-time operational information, leadership decisions are based on up-to-the-minute data. Receiving information in this manner is crucial to maintaining a competitive advantage in today’s business climate.
Autonomous systems help streamline processes and simplify everyday tasks so human workers can focus on their key goals. However, adopting DOS can be a disruptive experience and must be managed carefully. A fragmented technology implementation creates confusion, uncertainty, and lack of commitment among staff. This makes production difficult and weakens an organization’s position in the market. The transition to a modern production system requires a proper foundation: leadership focused on continuously improving the organization’s digital capabilities through synchronized and sequenced work supported by best practices.
Before embarking on a digital transformation journey, organizations need to develop a hermetic technology deployment strategy. A holistic improvement approach focused on improvement unlocks the potential of digital operations and retains long-term relevance for maximum benefit. It provides an actionable philosophy that can help organizations address the daunting prospect of outdated technology platforms, reluctant staff, and the rapid pace of technological change. Forward-thinking companies can incorporate the eight principles of the holistic improvement approach in three fluid phases to help companies run a smooth, results-oriented process.
Three key phases of advanced technology implementation:
Assess the current level of digital maturity
This first phase investigates the existing technologies in the company and the pace of digital adoption against the available advances. The wide range of digital solutions that are currently available presents an overwhelming range of options. Leveraging the right technology requires a clear understanding of the organization’s digital needs and end goal.
Therefore, technology implementation strategies must collect information internally and from external sources, such as customers, suppliers, and competitors, to assess the digital deficiencies of production processes. However, this phase is not just about identifying weak points. Instead, a comprehensive IT assessment determines the company’s digital strengths and competencies and areas for improvement.
The end state desired by the organization in its implementation of advanced technology in manufacturing is the benchmark against which each step of the digital transformation is reviewed. Therefore, evaluation is a continuous process: Successfully implementing advanced technology in manufacturing requires constant evaluation, adjustment, and refinement.
Plan the implementation process
The second phase of a technology implementation strategy considers the importance of organizational culture and functional processes. As the digital transformation journey unfolds, leadership skills, systems, processes, and styles undergo necessary and gradual adjustments. Naturally, this also entails a change in the culture of the company.
Culture is at the core of any new initiative that seeks to achieve a sustainable improvement in the entire organization’s performance. Therefore, it is vital that organizations continually assess culture change and manage its stages sequentially to ensure a seamless digital transformation with optimal results.
Operational processes, such as IT, HR, quality control, and administrative management, play an essential role in the performance of production and the supply chain. A holistic improvement approach to implementing advanced technology in manufacturing addresses these functional processes holistically and not in silos.
Leadership provides crucial direction during implementation and drives a constant digital transformation timeline that results in a robust digital culture. An emphasis on collaboration, knowledge sharing, visibility, skills development, and transparent access to data is vital to staff buy-in, digital adoption across the organization, and subsequent performance improvement.
Execute, normalize and maintain improvement initiatives
Implementing advanced technology in manufacturing requires constant effort and attention for the company to go from being a functional digital organization to one based on processes. Creating an integrated digital culture takes time and cannot be achieved overnight. Therefore, it is vitally important that the organization constantly transform its technology to avoid business shock.
Visibility is key to sustainability. Therefore, as each step of the implementation strategy is reviewed, only the most beneficial and relevant updates will become standard processes. Once standardized, these improved processes are shared across the extended value network in real-time for replication across the global enterprise.
Again, people are the key to optimizing an implementation strategy that offers continuous improvement. Ensuring complete alignment during a disruptive period and beyond requires strong communication and guidance at the highest level. Processes, people, and technologies need to be in sync across functions, requiring an improved workforce and continued investment in training. Sustainability depends on an organizational commitment to the development of people and the evolution of skills.
Key areas for the success of an implementation strategy for advanced technology in manufacturing
To successfully introduce, implement, and integrate new technologies, manufacturing organizations will need to:
- Leverage the right technologies in response to a thorough assessment of the organization’s digital maturity and technology needs.
- Perform in-depth planning in all divisions and functions of the organization. It’s critical that people and processes are aligned and ready for digital transformation. This includes vendors and customer networks, which require end-to-end analysis for technology integration.
- Review the IT architecture of the company to ensure maximum impact throughout the organization. The IT function is a crucial component of a technology implementation strategy; however, IT can only perform optimally if dispersed throughout the organization. If IT exists in a silo, its outdated fundamentals will not be able to meet the future digital needs of the business. An urgent redesign based on a digital vision will integrate IT throughout the organization.
- Ensure that baseline key performance indicators (KPIs) and standard work are in place to mitigate business crises. Implementing a digital transformation is challenging, and staff doubts can inhibit progress. Establishing KPIs can help ensure that strategic milestones are met and properly measured. In addition, once expectations are clarified and systematized, staff can adapt to new procedures and processes on time without jeopardizing production.
- Configure the factory to allow “smart” processes. The success of the digital and lean configuration will advance the organization’s performance and take advantage of new business opportunities. This requires up-to-date use of robotics, augmented reality, large-scale integration of information and operational technology (TO-IT integration), and real-time data processing using advanced analytics.
- Train leaders to guide the transition to advanced digital technologies by setting an encouraging example. Leaders must subscribe to a company’s digital vision to drive a seamless transformation with the participation of people. Staff must understand the importance of the technology implementation strategy for the future of the business. Leaders can develop and leverage the organization’s best practice programs, tools, policies, and systems to ensure this progress.
Orchestrate the digital transformation journey for superior results
Managing an implementation strategy for advanced technology in manufacturing in a large company requires an orchestration system to achieve digital transformation successfully. The ultimate goal of any company that implements new technology systems is digital maturity, which encompasses both people and processes. Orchestrating the journey to enable the best DOS performance will maximize the business’s immediate profits and future potential.
Therefore, carefully managed end-to-end improvement is an integral part of a state-of-the-art deployment strategy. A holistic approach that focuses on people and company-wide manufacturing processes, rather than silos, will enable a seamless transition to digital with better worker adoption of new technologies. Leadership plays a critical role in leading the digital transformation journey, ensuring integration of digital and lean, keeping stakeholders included, and raising performance across the entire value chain.