The Benefits of Digital Transformation in Manufacturing

Written by Celeste A. Barron November 5, 2020

What it Means to Be a Digital Manufacturer

Like most industries in the United States today, we’ve been seeing a digital transformation happen in the realm of manufacturing. This shift is interesting because manufacturing is all about producing tangible products. Adopting new technologies in methods of production isn’t so much tangible as it is digital. So taking the leap of faith to digitization is exactly that—a leap of faith. But as consumers’ habits and expectations evolve, so must methods of production. 

From car parts and pharmaceuticals to electronics and personal care products, each of these companies began with a simple paper process and an operational dream. For manufacturing hubs, pivoting from conventional operations to automation and technology-driven processes is truly changing the face of manufacturing in ways that were inconceivable just a few decades ago. This dramatic move to digitization is being referred to today as Industry 4.0.

What’s Included in Industry 4.0

Why is it called Industry 4.0? Because it’s representing the Fourth Industrial Revolution driven by data, connectivity and cyber systems. Largely coined in October of 2016, Industry 4.0 introduced the use of fourth-industry technologies that combine hardware, software and biology—and emphasized advances in communication and connectivity. 

This new era was expected to be marked by breakthroughs in emerging technologies in fields such as:

  • Robotics
  • Artificial intelligence (AI)
  • Nanotechnology
  • Quantum computing
  • Biotechnology
  • Internet of things (IoT)
  • 5th-gen wireless technologies
  • 3D printing
  • Fully autonomous vehicles

This list has come a long way from the previous Industrial Revolutions. The First Industrial Revolution (1760–1820) was marked by a transition from hand production methods to machines through the use of steam power and water power. The Technological Revolution, also called the Second Industrial Revolution (1871–1914) resulted from installations of extensive railroad and telegraph networks, which allowed for faster transfer of people and ideas, as well as electricity. Finally, the Third Industrial Revolution happened in the 1950s, with the development of semiconductors, mainframe computing, personal computing and the Internet—the digital revolution. And that brings us to the present, Industry 4.0. 

Though the list of emerging technologies above sounds intimidating and like something out of the Terminator movie series, the move to adopting new tech can start incrementally smaller and is absolutely feasible (not to mention necessary to keep up with the growing and evolving demands of consumers).

All the Benefits

Manufacturing success requires foresight, robust leadership and control over what could be a long, multiyear process. It also takes the same qualities to successfully complete a long-term digital transformation.

However, the benefits of that investment of time and money is 100% worth it in the end. Every manufacturing hub is different and may require different technologies to take that digital leap; truly it depends on your operational business model and overarching goals. No matter which technology is adopted to get you there, most new systems are designed to improve operational efficiencies, supply/chain planning, inventory cost control, compliance requirements and operation within the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT). 

Here are all the reasons to transform your industrial shop with digital manufacturing technology:

  • Improved processes enhance operational efficiency. Departing from traditional paper and manual processes by deploying automated, cloud-based solutions helps streamline process flow, access helpful analytics, improve decision-making capabilities, avoid costly rework and downtime, simplify performance monitoring, deliver to market faster, and provide detailed digital product representations—all while improving quality and reducing waste.
  • Innovate by utilizing state-of-the-art technology. To achieve new capabilities like increased employee collaboration, predictive analytics, machine learning, connectivity and 3D modeling, it’s worth it to invest in the right digital infrastructure. Digital platforms help eliminate silos by interweaving planning and development.
  • Attract and empower the next generation of workers. Digital manufacturing can help fill job openings in the manufacturing industry. By investing in new digital manufacturing technology, there’s a better chance of attracting and retaining new workers who want to use that technology to increase efficiencies through process improvement.
  • Increase customer satisfaction. Digital manufacturing helps increase brand awareness, in turn helping businesses provide more customer-specific solutions.
  • Reduce costs. Digital manufacturing helps businesses gain better insight into supply/chain issues, such as inventory levels, delivery status and demand cycles. This increased visibility helps reduce unnecessary risk and costs related to issues like excessive inventory.

Being digital means rethinking how to identify and use new capabilities to improve the customer journey. Superficial changes oftentimes are not enough. Creating value for customers means implementing a recurring dynamic across the business that helps deliver the best experience for your customers.

Being a Digital Manufacturer is Totally Doable

Success in manufacturing depends largely on being digital, but its achievement goes well beyond implementing technology alone. Embracing a digital transformation also means challenging legacy business models and taking new, yet well-informed, risks. 

It involves developing a deeper understanding of customers than most companies have today. It also means searching the value chain for new ways to improve, simplify and innovate. It requires creating the right mix of people and processes to go along with advanced technology and creating an enjoyable, productive work environment for your employees.

Ultimately though, success means delivering value to customers that your competitors can’t match. And today, it’s difficult to do that until you’ve fully embraced an innovative digital transformation within your business.

Consider a Technology Makeover

Whether you’re considering a full tech makeover or just a facelift, it never hurts to reevaluate your existing processes and operational needs. If you’re unsure and just want to explore options, take that leap of faith with us. We’ll talk through your business model and help you scale to where you want to be in five or even ten years. 

For a free consultation about exploring your digital options, click here. Easy peasy.

This post was written by Celeste A. Barron, Content Development Manager for Shift3 Technologies. You’ll find her serenading her dog with 90s R&B power ballads.

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