Getting Digital Transformation Right
manufacturingtechnologyinsights

Getting Digital Transformation Right

By David Vasko, Director, Advanced Technology, Rockwell Automation

As an experienced professional in the industry, can you throw some light on the current challenges that the marketplace is witnessing? Also, how can those challenges be effectively mitigated?

In the present scenario, the challenges in the manufacturing industry are based on two aspects. One of them is achieving a Connected Enterprise, which is a critical challenge for businesses that want to drive digital transformation. While companies power digital transformations to propel smart manufacturing, the talent aspect also plays a role in it. As far as the required skills are concerned, it is essential to figure out the best way to leverage people and enhance their ability to meet these challenges.

Organizations opt for digital transformations because they want to get increased value. The biggest issue we have observed is businesses not realizing their true objective. At the onset, they must decide what they are trying to improve, and the hurdles they are facing. Regardless of the infrastructure/ technology they leverage, if it doesn’t address the challenges, the digital transformation initiative will not be successful. We believe organizations must identify their pain points before undertaking any new initiatives.

The complexities faced by organizations—in their pursuit of digital transformation—could be unplanned downtime, which potentially costs companies tens of thousands of dollars per minute. It could be additional productivity or lacking agility or flexibility to meet changing requirements. As we tend to incline more toward mass customization, people need to have flexibility in their lines. They need to be able to change faster and meet market demands for the company’s success. They should also know how to measure the outcome and identify the metrics they should use to measure that outcome.

Once businesses have identified those metrics, they need to securely connect their enterprises. Using a secure network infrastructure and with our supply chain, they can seamlessly interconnect. Then, businesses need to organize and contextualize their data so they can use it. At this point, they can start analyzing the data using AI or data analytics to create actionable information before implementing changes. This process can be repeated.

“While the organizations are introducing these technologies and are creating a framework for digital transformation, they need to ensure that their organizational culture resonates with it”

A lot of businesses approach digital transformation as a technology change, but it is more of a culture change. This is another major challenge organizations face. They should understand that culture is always hard to change. While organizations are introducing these technologies and creating a framework for digital transformation, they need to ensure that their organizational culture resonates with it. This statement means that organizations should build a culture of continuous improvement so that their employees come in every day with an aspiration to improve the line. They should inform, help, and support their employees to bring in the changes.

What are the latest technologies leveraged by factories, and the emerging technologies in their radar?

Among several technologies that have been disruptive to operations, industrial networking is one of them. Be it wired connections such as Ethernet, or wireless connections like 5G, the next few years will witness a drastic change in the way networking drives improvements in performances. Another technological area, comprising AI, analytics, and machine learning, is going to be a game-changer. Technology like augmented reality, which is already used in factories, provides real-time information that businesses need. For example, in the event of a machine downtime at a factory, the maintenance staff can throw on an AR headset and identify the exact machine or component that has failed. AR technology is going to play a crucial role in the future. The third technology would entail the collaboration between robots and people, or robots and traditional robots.

Three other technologies, which also need mention in this aspect, are independent cart technology, additive manufacturing, and blockchain.

’It’s necessary to find the right solution provider and the right partners when it comes to utilizing those technologies. Could you talk about your approach in identifying the right partnerships, the right solution providers from the lot?

For that, the businesses first need to identify the major pain point they are facing and then build up further from there. We recommend looking at ways to put an infrastructure in place that allows businesses to solve digital problems in the future, but they should target the problem that is impacting their business, and accordingly solve it.

Solving complexities costs money to access, format, and filter data. Businesses should ensure all the partnerships they enter (with vendors) are worth the investment and time. We look for partners that would align with our value propositions and have the capability to augment our existing projects. The partners should also have suitable interfaces to enable us in leveraging their equipment and solutions.

In the near future, how do you see the evolution of the industrial robotics space, in regards to some of the potential disruption or transformations in the field?

Though industrial robotics is fairly young, the industry will witness an increase in the usage of mobile robotic vehicles, and see robots brought in to solve pain points or to meet peak demands. It will be a disruptive technology. Robots can perform functions that are repetitive, ergonomically challenging, or dangerous. I believe there is going to be a surge in the application of industrial robots in those areas.

Are there any actual project initiatives that ’you’re currently overseeing that ’you’d like to talk about in the industrial robotics space?

One of our values is to expand human possibility, making the employees more productive. Since we don’t have enough manufacturing personnel with the required skills, we have started a new initiative titled, ‘The Academy of Advanced Manufacturing.’ The initiative retrains the veterans to allow them to meet future demands. Many of the veterans coming out of the service have incredible high-tech skills, but often can’t transfer those skills to the commercial environment. We discovered that by introducing veterans to manufacturing technology and putting them through a 12-week training program, we could bring them up-to-speed where they can step in and become a technician at a company. Our goal is to scale that up, to be able to train a thousand people per year where they are not required to pay extra money to undergo the training.

What is that single piece of advice that you would like to give to your fellow aspiring professionals in the field?

The real trick is just being purposeful in the understanding of what you are trying to solve, and taking an approach that is very methodical because it lays the groundwork for the problem to be solved. At Rockwell, we have been undergoing the digital transformation for close to a decade now, and today there’s a four-to five-percent productivity improvement every year. It’s important to realize that digital transformation is not a one-time thing. To make your operation more productive and profitable, you have to be in this space for the long haul.

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