Manufacturing shopfloor & digital transformation

Manufacturing shopfloor & digital transformation

The picture above shows 100 years old machining planning in Taber Manufacturing company. 100 years we have computers everywhere, including smart phone in our pocket. But the question – does it make manufacturing processes digital? Let’s talk about manufacturing shop floor, which is very much connected to engineering and manufacturing planning processes PLM software is very much involved into. Last year, I was involved into many conversations about digital transformation. If you’re not living under the rock, you probably heard about digital transformation. Digital transformation is happening around you and you’re involved in the process of digital transformation every day. Check my last year article about PLM paradigm shift and digital transformation here. The article includes the slide deck I presented at IPX symposium.

The transformation is coming to PLM. Existing PLM platform and infrastructure will be transformed as a result of major shift in manufacturing, relationships between companies, new business models and opportunities. It will include a shift from mostly single tenant systems architecture to multi-tenant PLM system architectures. It will bring a shift in PLM paradigm transformation paper data representation into digital form and later connecting dots of information and providing applications for decision making.

While I believe “digital transformation” is a evolutionary process, the key element is shift towards data intelligence, which will differentiate between previous generation of tools mostly “controlling” file and data storage into new gen of tools focusing on how to glen data intelligence and change decision making process.

Transformation is not simple, especially when it comes to people and habits. Change is hard.

My attention was caught by an article published on Tulip blog – What are we talking when we speak about Manufacturing Apps. Tulip is a software outfit that is helping manufacturing companies to turn old fashion “analog” manufacturing shopfloor process into a new digital form. Here is my favorite passage:

“Manufacturing Apps turn industrial workflows into instrumented, data collecting, digital processes that integrate operator, machine, and sensor data to achieve business goals.”

The following passage is a great explanation of digital transformation:

Before — Process Engineers use a clipboard and stopwatch to measure an operator’s performance. An individual’s data isn’t accessible beyond a couple of days, unless the process engineer types it on a spreadsheet that is easily accessible by everyone. The process is time-consuming, and the data is always lagging behind the operations.

After — With Manufacturing Apps, every step on your workflows generates data that is captured as defined by those closest to your operations. Process and Quality engineers can use the data to improve workflows, line supervisors can use the data to provide targeted feedback to operators, and upper management can use the data to have a real-time picture of the shop-floor.

I found it insightful and helping to understand one of the key elements of digital transformation – moving away from “analog” processes to “digital”. In my view, manufacturing shop floor has still lot of “analog” elements. The running joke I’ve heard many times in manufacturing companies is that the most updated manufacturing bill of materials is usually on cork board in the shopfloor. Although, it is not true for many companies, lot of elements of manufacturing process is far from being presented in a digital form.

A connection between manufacturing shopfloor and other engineering applications is also important. Digital transformation of a shop floor starts much earlier when engineers are capturing designs and engineering bill of materials (BOMs) to make them visible for manufacturing planners. Then manufacturing bill of materials and process floor can be connected to the real product data including information about material floor. These are examples how information is not only presented in digital form, but also connected for better intelligent and decision process.

What is my conclusion? Manufacturing companies are going through the process of digital transformation. The hardest part of this process is people. When it comes to changes in process, people are the weak link to make it happen. Because transformation is hard. Tools can make it simpler and bring value proposition to motivate companies to move towards digital processes. I’m looking into digital connection between engineering and manufacturing processes. One size doesn’t fit all. Large OEMs and SME manufacturing will take different routes. But capturing data and connecting dots of information (design, bill of materials, manufacturing process) is a very important step in this process of digital transformation. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg

Want to learn more about PLM? Check out my new PLM Book website.

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.

Image credit wikipedia article.


Share This Post