Getting digital transformation right first time

Read time: 4 mins        Added date: 08/05/2024

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In this article, Kieran Mara, Senior Advisor, Digital Transformation at the Manufacturing Technology Centre (MTC), considers the opportunities and challenges manufacturers will encounter on their digital journey.

Digitalisation, data and decision making

For the past three years, I’ve been leading the MTC Digital Transformation team, working to encourage and support SMEs in the process of adopting digital technologies.

During this period, I’ve seen first-hand how digital capabilities can make improvements in a wide range of areas across a business including:

  • unlocking capacity, 
  • increasing efficiency and profitability, 
  • reducing costs. 

Research has shown that there are many areas in which digital technologies will deliver benefits to a business. The key is identifying the areas that should be prioritised for digitalisation.

Whenever a business asks for our support, there are inevitably specific issues they want to address; such as machine failures, scrap and reject rates, late deliveries or excess inventory. However, these are usually the symptoms not the root cause of the problem. 

To get to the root causes, it’s important for the business to use data to understand the problem and develop a solution. This data often comes in many forms, both paper-based and digital.  Turning this data into structured information will provide valuable insight to the business to help resolve problems and put controls in place to prevent them reoccurring.  

The goal of digitalisation is to manage and control the flow of data through each step of the business processes, whilst minimising the need for manual intervention and avoiding the potential for bottlenecks or errors.

Digital data can also play a role in capturing knowledge in a business. This is increasingly important with so many manufacturers having an ageing workforce.

Understanding Industry 4.0 technologies

Digitalising manufacturing is often described as the fourth industrial revolution, encompassing technologies such as Artificial Intelligence, Additive Manufacturing, advanced analytics and Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT). 

Whilst connecting machines and systems has been with us for decades, the real value of Industry 4.0 is in unlocking the value from the data. It’s all about using the data to create visibility of the manufacturing process.  To understand what is happening, to start to predict the outcomes and ultimately enable the process to self-optimise. This allows businesses to have better control of manufacturing operations.

Although there are significant benefits to adopting digital technologies, it is often challenging for businesses to determine where to start the digital journey and which are the most appropriate technologies to use. 

Many businesses also have a common misconception that they have to transform their whole organisation in one go. The reality is they can start with bite-sized projects that allow them to work out what suits them best.

Developing a digital strategy

The first step is to take a holistic view of the business to understand how digitalisation can support the wider business strategy. The MTC process looks at where the business is and where it wants to go.  

As well as understanding the current challenges; it then uses these to create a digital transformation roadmap that focuses on the capabilities as opposed to starting with the potential technology solutions.

This avoids the scenario where piecemeal implementation of digital solutions creates siloed systems that aren’t integrated with the business processes.

The MTC’s approach uses collaborative workshops with representation from the across the business (top floor to shop floor), to understand critical business processes, the key challenges and the capabilities required to operate effectively. 

It’s important in all change initiatives to engage and communicate effectively with your people, so we always focus on a people-first approach when we're undertaking any digital transformation activity. Ultimately your people will determine the successful outcome of your digital project.

The workshop outputs are used to create a roadmap and digital action plan. This will show the priority activities in terms of people, processes and the enabling digital technologies.

The MTC can provide an independent assessment of how various technology solutions will help the business achieve its objectives.  We are vendor agnostic but have experience of different system capabilities so can help de-risk investment options.

Using a collaborative process enables the MTC to support the business decision making so that the business stake-holders are confident in the outcomes and own the digital strategy and action plan.

The approach has proven to deliver tangible results, customers are realising significant benefits, recent examples include: improving on-time delivery from 90 to 98%, boosting capacity by 20 to 30% and reducing overtime and contract staff costs by around £400k in the first year. 

As an initial first step on your digital transformation, the MTC offers a free consultative line walk to SMEs.  Undertaken by a senior engineer, it aims to identify potential solutions to the challenges you are facing. 

You can then choose to collaborate further with the MTC and depending on project requirements and eligibility, there may be funding options available. Speak to your Lloyds Bank Relationship Manager  for more information on the opportunities and support the MTC can provide your business.


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