Your process is unique – your digital transformation will be too

By John Genovesi  

Adopting new technology is nothing new to most industrial companies. We have been doing it since the Industrial Revolution. Being good at it, however, still eludes the best of us. In the 80s, we all implemented new programmable automation technologies that vastly improved productivity, quality, and flexibility. This was a wholesale shift, and many are still using these systems today.

But the transformation to digital technologies is different. Properly selecting and putting new technologies to work requires a more disciplined approach. Not only are there more technology options, but your operations are likely more changeable. Success requires a customized digital transformation plan.

Plus, a digital transformation can pay for itself. Investments can be incremental with return on investment (ROI) earned as you go. In our digital transformation at Rockwell Automation, the tools we implemented have allowed us to solve problems differently. Beyond expected ROI, unplanned benefits have continued to improve productivity at 4 to 5 percent per year, double the previous rate. Productivity gains offset inflation and fund investments. Through our journey, we have identified key ingredients to success:

  • tie digital technology investments to specific operational and business outcomes
  • create a plan based on an assessment
  • find the right support

Top down vs. bottom up

Pressure to adopt digital technologies comes from two directions. Either someone has a specific problem and knows new digital technology can help solve it, or an executive is advocating for the Industrial Internet of Things to drive improvements. Both scenarios have advantages, but come with the potential to waste time and money.

Your plant manager might be struggling with overall equipment effectiveness (OEE) data. Say OEE is stalled at 40 percent, or the manager does not trust the data used to compile key metrics, and cannot analyze the data to uncover the root causes of downtime. Your manager needs more reliable data directly from the equipment. This can be an excellent starting point for a digital transformation. But, will the manager look for a solution that can be replicated to include additional lines and plants? Has he or she determined the required OEE boost to meet ROI goals related to costs, productivity, or quality?

A digital transformation that emerges from point solutions without a larger plan can create chaos. Sole-purpose solutions often do not account for how technology or your business might change. One-off requests find their way to IT, but is there a plan for new technology to scale or adapt? How do these solutions integrate with other solutions already in place? Is there room to add value? Can we maintain all these solutions?

Alternatively, an executive with a vision can start a digital transformation that is not rooted in production issues. Investments need to chase a specific business outcome, not technology. Otherwise, different stakeholders can quickly acquire technologies that do not offer a compelling ROI or build a connected enterprise that continues to drive unexpected benefits and value-the true promise of digital transformation. These pitfalls can be avoided with a solid plan attended to by a defined team.

Plan the team, team the plan

Buy-in comes first. Key functions to digital transformation include manufacturing engineering, manufacturing IT, and business leadership. All groups must be involved in the development of the plan. Before planning can begin, the team needs a full-time lead. Companies often assign this task as an extra project, but it is too important and too much work to squeeze into the margins of another job.

The team lead starts with an assessment of in-house capabilities. Do you have the resources and technical capabilities to develop your own plan, or do you need to tap a partner to assist?

The plan must create a consistent vision and expectations around the project. All the key functions have their primary concerns. IT cares about standardization and network security. Operations is focused on productivity and OEE. Engineering wants a maintainable system that can be optimized and upgraded. These concerns need to align with your business needs. Do you need to move to more regional production? Are you reacting to changing demand while maintaining quality standards? What are your cost drivers? Where could performance improve, and what is the return on the expected improvement in each area?

The secondary outcomes-better collaboration and problem solving-are continuous improvement drivers. Each digital technology rollout can add immediate value and further your infrastructure for ongoing data-driven improvements. Focusing on the immediate return can help build a more connected enterprise.

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About the Author

John GenovesiJohn Genovesi, vice president of the Rockwell Automation information solutions business, is responsible for leading growth, profitability, and development strategies globally. He has held various roles since joining Rockwell Automation in 1989. Genovesi has an MBA from Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio, and a BS in electrical engineering from Youngstown State University.

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