9 Critical Manufacturing Industry Observations from an Integrator’s POV

by | Mar 31, 2022 | Business, Industry News, Strategy, Tips & Tricks

We have been busy recently talking with a whole lot of manufacturers. We have seen great manufacturers embrace the value of data and other manufacturers miss the boat.

Among the calls, meetings, and plant tours several critical points have come up again and again around whether and how companies are embracing the future.

This is an example of a manufacturing worker. A place similar to some of the places we visited to make our list of 9 critical manufacturing industry observations.

Two Identical Manufacturing Companies, that are Very Different after a Closer Look

Let’s start off with a couple of quick and very recent experiences we had with two different companies.

Company #1

Not long ago we visited and talked with a company that manufactures products used in construction. Three plants, multiple machines and cells, data on pieces of paper and spreadsheets, struggling to maintain production and keep people coming to work (this was even before the pandemic.)

Even the attitudes of the people expressed what was going on…good, smart people but simply worn down by the struggle. You could tell how the company made decisions instantly just by pulling into the parking lot let alone seeing the plant floor.

Company #2

Then, we had a call just last week with a company that competes directly with the manufacturer above…same products, same industry sector, same market space. Nearly the same number of plants. Investing in and respecting their people, quarterly Kaizen events on every one of their lines, currently in the process of getting more data and value from their machines/lines and teams.

It was also easy to see the state of things through attitudes and appearances.

The Difference

These two companies are worlds apart, and it’s not due to better funding or better industry. It’s due to the leadership’s focus on doing the right thing…investing in the right places of the business…the business and driving more value by using data to make better and more valuable decisions, among others.

We hope that you find some valuable takeaways from these observations we made, and steer yourself more towards the likes of that second manufacturer.

So, let’s get into it. Here are 9 critical observations we made recently based on our calls, meetings, and site visits with various manufacturers.

1. Catch the Train or Be Left Behind

As the fourth industrial revolution continues to surge, we are continuing to see more Smart Manufacturing and Digital Transformation initiatives startup. More requests for what turn out to be MES (Manufacturing Execution System) solutions…which can be the start of a Digital Transformation.

We’re seeing it catch on a lot in small and medium-size manufacturers in all industries…chemical, pharma, precision metals, primary metals, plastics, and more.

Illustrated is an example of a pharma manufacturer that we might work with.

Aiming for Long Term Success

Leaning more towards the mid-size manufacturers, it’s less common in smaller companies. This is often what we see for the adoption of new initiatives…they start at the enterprise organizations, and then it trickles down over time.

2. No Excuses

When a company says they’re not ready for driving more data from their plants and better real-time visibility, we always respect their decisions, but we’re also often left scratching our heads.

Innovation in recent years is changing U.S manufacturing industry sectors

The other initiatives are valuable, but contrary to popular belief these advanced manufacturing / digital transformations don’t actually require a lot to start and continue. It’s 2022 and there’s a wide range of options to start big or small, flexible solutions that can be tailored specifically to your business needs, challenges, and budget.

If the company truly has no money to spend because the industry you sell to just went into the crapper, well ok, I get it. Outside of that, maybe think again.

Big ERP implementation or upgrade, new warehouse system, automating some machines, lack of staff, … There will always be a reason to not do it, always something else important to focus on.

A New Perspective

Think about it this way? When is the best time to start eating right, exercising, or saving for your retirement? Not sometime in the future, but right now. Even starting small by skipping those midnight snacks (I’m speaking to myself here as much as anyone ;-), or putting even $50 monthly in the retirement fund starts the process; then you can build on that momentum with minimal or modest effort.

3. New Business Model Innovation in the Manufacturing Sector

Looking at new business models is gaining more traction. We’re going to be working on a project pulling data from devices, building some special data models and algorithms to change how our client’s product is sold and paid for.

This will completely separate this company from its competition, they will be among industry leaders. The company is global and it has the attention of the C-suite…it’s a big deal. We’re seeing more and more of this among many manufacturers.

As you’re going through your Digital Transformations or planning yours, keep your mind open and get creative…where can you grow your business once you have the right data at your fingertips? These are things the leading companies have on their minds.

4. Operator Dashboards Don’t Solve All Problems

We spend a decent amount of time thinking about what information to provide operators because they’re the most valuable people in the company, they’re very skilled workers…they know what’s going on all the time and know how to get it done.

With that said, that doesn’t provide the whole picture of the value of the data and what’s going on in the plant.

Example of some potential manufacturing operator dashboards.

How to Make Operator Dashboards solve more problems

So, make sure you get the data into a good, open database so you can apply BI tools to it. Operator HMIs and dashboards are first, and BI data analysis is a close second. Then you have the flexibility to get the details of what’s really going on in the plant.

5. Manage the Change

What happens when a project is done and the operators don’t know about it, didn’t have any input, and don’t care? Nothing. The project ends up being a wasted investment and you end up having to backtrack and try to get people on board after the fact.

Instead, start managing the change from an early stage, way before the actual implementation. A key strategy is to get open-minded people on the team, get interest and input from the beginning, and drive the value for everyone.

6. If Leadership Isn’t Onboard

Transformations to become Data-Driven should and often start at the top, driven by leadership. If they aren’t on board the train with you, and you feel in your gut becoming a Data-Driven Manufacturer is really important, what do you do?

Illustration of a leader, taking charge and leading his team.

7. Data Won’t Fix Processes

A woman in IT that we’re talking with recently said that “data won’t fix processes.” (Wish I could mention names, gotta keep everything confidential and all that.)

It was such a good point. I heard that idea repeated recently… Businesses need to have good, clean processes or at least not be a total operations mess, along with being open-minded to improving and using data before they’re ready for a Digital Transformation journey. Great thoughts.

Start small and local and build a network. Identify one business challenge and its value which can be solved by having better data. Collect some like-minded people around you as a core of believers. Execute a pilot project without going behind anyone’s back. Prove it was valuable.

Then, use that example and start selling upwards…with tact and professionalism. And continue to build momentum by developing that network of believers in the company; eventually, you could reach a tipping point.

Move on to the next business challenge, same process. Keep on scaling and improving, while proving value all along the way.

8. Lean on Steroids

IIoT, MES, MQTT, Unified Namespace, Digital Strategy, etc., etc. doesn’t mean we throw the baby out with the bathwater. Lean strategies and tactics still have a strong place in the company.

In fact, data from your Digital Transformation journey will crank up the value of Lean projects significantly. Digital Transformation and Lean should be coupled together.

9. Drive the Business Value

I’ve heard it recently multiple times and we also say it frequently…start first with the business value, the business challenge and its value…then solve the challenge by moving towards the data and technology.

Technology Alone does Not equal Growth

Still today people too often forget this point and get wrapped around technology for the sake of technology…they’re walking around with technology and looking for a problem to solve. That’s like holding a knife or gun from the wrong end.

Leverage technology and automation to solve your predetermined business challenge. You wouldn’t just start ordering random parts when your car breaks down. You’d diagnose and get the exact part you need to solve your problem.

What do You think?

You might start reading this and think “half of this stuff just says we need real-time data and an MES, and actionable analysis and all that” and there’s some truth to that.

However, we didn’t throw all of that in here to show off our services. First, we created our services because we recognized the value. We truly believe that this is what manufacturers need to combat current and future workforce issues and for real growth. Plus, we’re 100% confident that we can prove the value to you time after time after time.

I read a book that said “An entrepreneur is someone who solves a problem at a profit” – This is one of my favorite quotes.

To be transparent, do these 9 observations hopefullyend with more money in our pockets? I have to say I hope so! The parallel is that we also know how much of a difference these solutions make for manufacturers who utilize them, and we’re eager to keep on proving our point 🙂

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