Digital transformation and machine learning is coming to us from every possible and, sometimes, very unexpected direction. Over the weekend, my attention was caught by very interesting news that came from Microsoft. Check Engadget blog – Import Excel data just by photographing a spreadsheet.
The new import feature uses image recognition technology to identify all of the information on the page and convert it into an Excel spreadsheet in the app. It should eliminate the need to manually enter or copy data, depending on its accuracy. The feature, labeled in-app as “Insert Data from Picture,” can perform the conversion from analog to digital with a single tap. Microsoft first floated the idea for this tool last year before being made widely available in the most recent update to the Android app. It’s just the latest in the company’s ongoing efforts to insert more machine learning models into its products.
Thinking about pragmatic approaches in the digital transformation of engineering and manufacturing, I found this feature very interesting. There are tons of debates about digital transformation. But simple ones are usually overlooked. Think about information which resides on paper or paper-like data sources. Engineering and manufacturing companies have tons of data like this. Just step in every manufacturing company shop-floor or archive and you will see a lot of printed drawings or PDF files with a bill of materials. By making pictures of BOM tables you can transform this information into a digital form.
You can ask, what is a big deal? Here is the thing… for many manufacturing companies (especially small ones) when you need to order parts, drawings are often the only source of information that actually needs to be ordered. A traditional (analog) way to do business will be to send this information to the purchasing department as PDF drawing, but getting it in Excel can speed up the process. Actually, by connecting this app to PLM tools can make it even better. (I’m considering to bring transformed BOMs directly to OpenBOM in one of the future releases – disclose, I’m co-founder and CEO of OpenBOM).
What is my conclusion? Digital transformation can have a significant impact on manufacturing companies. While often PLM companies are speaking about PLM as a strategy and multi-year business transformation, small and simple things matter. If you can get BOM from PDF file to be transferred into digital format and be able to manage purchases directly using one of the available PLM, ERP or new cloud online tools (eg. OpenBOM), it can be big deal for these companies. Just my thoughts…
Disclaimer: I’m co-founder and CEO of OpenBOM developing cloud-based bill of materials and inventory management tool for manufacturing companies, hardware startups, and supply chain. My opinion can be unintentionally biased.