066. Idea – Defining Digital Transformation for Manufacturing
Welcome to EECO Asks Why. Today we have an idea episode and it’s going to be a lot of fun. We’re going to talk about defining digital transformation for manufacturing and to help us with this conversation we have Tessa Myers, who is the Global Vice President over Software and Control at Rockwell Automation. So welcome, Tessa.
Thanks for having me.
I’m excited. Thank you so much. You bring so much wisdom and knowledge to this topic, and a lot of our listeners sometimes can just get confused as to when you hear about digital transformation and what does it mean at its core? So how would you explain that?
I think it’s important to take just a very simple view of what digital transformation means and to me digital transformation, regardless of the industry that you might be in, is really about using technology, digital technologies, to change the way that people work or how processes function. I think digital transformation is about changing the way that we work by the use of technology and in manufacturing, those technologies range from automation and sensors, robotics, the application of machine learning, augmented reality, or data and analytics, to manufacturing processes in the way that people work with them.
So is that what you kind of see as the direct tie to that manufacturing or some of those types of technologies that are evolving?
Digital transformation when it relates to manufacturing is really about using technology to change the way that we produce goods. And how manufacturing processes operate. And so whether that’s automating a production line, using censoring and automation and controls to operate and control the equipment or pulling data from a manufacturing process and applying analytics to that and providing visibility, to operators or supervisors or executives to understand how the manufacturing operations are working. In the case of manufacturing, it’s really just about applying this technology to manufacturing processes to help them work better.
Right. From the manufacturing standpoint, are there any low hanging fruit areas for adoption or promising areas that industry should be looking at or considering to really take a leap forward in this area?
I think that there’s a couple of areas that I think are promising for the adoption of, digital technologies on the manufacturing floor. I do think there’s a huge opportunity. Manufacturing assets, control systems, sensors produce a lot of data and a lot of information around how the manufacturing process is operating. The quality of the product, the amount of product that you’re producing, the operating conditions of the equipment. And so I think a really promising area for adoption in manufacturing is leveraging all of that data that’s being produced. Apply some analytic capability to that, to understand and predict the operating conditions and the performance of the equipment, and then driving that back to close the loop into how you’re operating your systems.
And so, I think one area that’s really interesting from a manufacturing perspective is the area around maintenance and historically companies have either used time-based or run the failure maintenance practices. And I think that their use of technology on how equipment is operating and the operating conditions of the equipment, you can really use to drive a more predictive maintenance activity, which means you’re only performing maintenance when it’s required.
So not too much and not too little. And you can predict when a piece of equipment might fail, which enables companies to avoid a costly breakdown situation and costly downtime.
Right. So many companies from that time based that could even be time-based and preventative maintenance where you’re just doing stuff just because, like you said, the so many hours have elapsed, or we do this every outage because we do it every outage. What I’m hearing you say and correct me if I’m wrong is, use that data, cloud analytics, but that closed the loop part is where you go back to moving to more of a predictive stance from a maintenance standpoint. Is that correct?
Very cool. Very cool. I see it as some of the biggest opportunities as well. Are there other opportunities that you think for improvement that people in manufacturing industry just aren’t aware of or aren’t considering?
Yeah, there’s a couple of other areas. I wouldn’t say that companies aren’t considering them, but I think there’s a significant opportunity across manufacturers to make progress in these areas. The first is around, thinking about digital transformation and how it aids innovation for companies. And so if you think about companies who they’re designing products that they want to introduce into manufacturing and leveraging digital technologies like product life cycle management and digital design tools, along with the automation systems and control architectures to really as you design products, design them for manufacturability and reduce the time to market of introducing those new products is I think an important area for innovation when you think about digital transformation and manufacturing.
I think the second area that companies should be focused on is around workforce productivity. And so that’s helping operators or supervisors or executives in your manufacturing operations have better visibility to the equipment and the production, to enable them to make better decisions. In real time, I think is important. Could think about using digital technologies like augmented reality and emulation.
When you think about training your workforce and bringing new workers into your manufacturing plant, from a workforce productivity perspective throughout COVID, we’ve all learned how to work in a little bit of a different way. And so using technologies to create access to remote experts, who can help support people that are on the floor, operating the equipment and giving them access to remote experts, I think is an important area of helping the workforce be more productive.
And then the last area I think companies should be focused on is really how do I improve operations? And so we spoke a little bit about maintenance, but in terms of throughput, product yield, quality improvements, that overall, how do I leverage automation and information to help me drive operational improvements is an important area of focus that companies should have.
No doubt. Absolutely. If you were look at what you’re seeing work around these three areas, so for innovation, workforce productivity, or operations, where have you seen the most progression in digital transformation succeed so far?
You know, what’s interesting is I could talk about technology, which picking the right technologies to leverage is important, but where I’ve seen companies succeed or struggle, has a lot to do with how a company builds their strategy, organizes their teams. And it focuses the organization to gain the benefits of that leveraging technology.
And I think there’s a couple of things that I’ve observed over companies that are successful, that I think are good lessons learned for other companies. The first is that when I’ve seen companies be successful in leveraging digital transformation to drive their business improvements, they’ve got buy-in at the top of their organizations.
And so the leadership in a company, really has to make it a priority. If it’s a priority for the organization and the leaders are embracing it and driving it as a priority initiative in the organization, that’s an important first step.
And the second is that I think it’s important to have a clear business case in mind. And so you have to really consider what are the business benefits, the operational challenge specifically that you’re trying to address. And be very focused on resolving that, delivering that business outcome. And I think having that business benefit in mind, has been really important for companies.
The third is, I think it’s important to think big and act small. And so one of the things I see that are challenging for companies is they do a lot of pilots and they try a lot of things. It is important to test and try, but I think you have to have a bigger end game in mind. And so what you want to identify, you want to think big about what are the use cases or business challenges that I’m focused on that I know I can scale across my production lines, my production equipment or my plants. Because going after business problems that have the ability to address more broadly and that you can scale is really important. And so think big, start small with a first use , but target those first uses on things that have scalability across your operations.
And then the last piece that I think is really important is that, the often under addressed area is around culture. And if you think about a digital transformation is about changing the way that you work; either how processes work, how equipment works, or how people interact with your systems and perform their work.
And so, that has an important cultural element because if your team is, understand the vision, they know what you’re trying to achieve. They’re open to change and learning that’s going to lead to a more successful implementation and approach. And so the people and culture aspect, I think, is an area where I see companies succeed.
They recognize that that’s really important and they’re focused on that from the outset, rather than not making progress and realizing that the people and the adoption of the technology are the barrier.
Right. These are great. Just to recap for our listeners, you have to have that buy-in at the top, because it really starts there. If the adoption’s not there, you’re really going to struggle. That clear business case and having that defined is so important. I love think big and act small. I think that’s probably some of the best advice I’ve heard. Specifically how you talk about scalability, because I hadn’t thought about that and I’m sure there may be people out there listening to have hadn’t made that tie to, and then the culture.
So Tessa, if you’re a mid-level manager in manufacturing right now, and let’s say you don’t have one of these four in place, let’s just say you don’t have number one, you don’t have the buy-in at the top. And you’re in that environment. What advice? How would you move forward?
I think leadership is compelled to action by really great business cases. Right? And so I think if you can translate how to evolve a process or the operating system with the use of technology, and you can articulate the business benefit of doing that, what will change in the organization?
And what’s the financial implication of that? Whether you’re reducing costs, you’re increasing capacity. And I think you could add to that. Does it create a better customer experience? So, with your customers, are you able to have more agility in your manufacturing operations? Are you able to produce more variants of your products or improve the quality?
I think the financial or customer benefits of what you would do, I think is, every executive is thinking about how do we improve our business. And I think if you can combine the improvements that you want to make and the benefit that it has to the company, I think that creates a compelling reason why executives would buy into supporting you in, in the organization taking those steps.
Right. Does anything stand out from your past when you look at successes. Kind of going back to that success point, but around that think big and act small that someone listening may not consider or thought of. Just curious. Have you seen anything that really stood out? Hey, that was a really cool way to implement some technology on a small scale, on a small level, rather, but it has a potential to really scale out and help the organization.
I’ve seen a number of different implementations that have helped companies. So, I’ve seen where we’ve used analytics to take a look at sources of downtime for a particular piece of equipment. And then, with that visibility, maintenance teams are providing maintenance in a different way.
The team is operating the equipment differently and I’ve seen that implemented in a single plant with a piece of equipment that exists in other locations, both other aligns within the plant as well as other plant locations. And so, applications like, WE E or downtime reporting in, in root cause analysis for some of the applications where, I’ve seen companies apply that to a single piece of equipment or production line, and then once they validated it and they’ve implemented it. They start to scale it across their operations.
Right. Absolutely. Because once you see that success that you get that buy-in, it becomes that snowball effect happens and more and more projects, you get more, more capital proved and go from there.
That’s true, but once you validated the use case, then it’s a no regret move right. To expand it beyond, a single line or a single piece of equipment. That’s why think big start small is so important is if you pick a use case where it only really exists in one or two places in your operations, there’s time and intensity and an investment that has to go into that first use case for not a significant return. Right?
And so what you want to identify are applications or processes or operational challenges that exist across equipment across lines or across plants, because once you solve that use case, once you start to show some benefit from an implementation. Then, the scale of the impact that you can have is substantial.
And so you, you want to tackle kind of the most prevalent business challenges that you have and operational challenges so that when you solve them, and you create some improvement, you have an ability to leverage that across all of your equipment in your plant.
Absolutely. Great advice. Great advice. You’ve talked a lot today about different types of people, owning the different areas of digital transformation. So from your standpoint, who typically owns the thought leadership in a digital transformation project?
I think I had seen this in a lot of different ways across a lot of different companies. And so, where I see companies making significant progress is where their operations team , and either, if they are organized with an operations leadership across all of their operations, they own the operating environment. They own the business impact and the accountability, to deliver productivity from an operations perspective. And so I see often where operations takes the lead.
I’ve seen some cases where engineering has the lead, where IT has the lead. And so it really varies by different companies. Some companies where I see making the most progress have established a role or a team that are focused on digital transformation in manufacturing.
And so they wake up every day thinking about the evolution in the transformation of manufacturing and, and using technology. And I I’ve seen that be a really successful approach. For companies of, creating a person or a team that are focused on it.
Oh, okay. So you’re actually saying that is their sole responsibility is to look for ways to create digital transformation type projects
In close partnership with the operations team and the business teams and the IT team at a company, those manufacturing digital transformation leaders are working across all of those to identify what are the best opportunities. And then implementing projects to get after the productivity and the improvement.
Oh, very cool. So if you’re listening right now, Tessa, and you want to pursue a career like that, where should I start investing time to, to really get the skill sets, to be able to, to work on these types of teams?
I think Chris that it depends a little bit on where you’re starting, because I think the manufacturing environment today is different than you and I knew it 20 years ago. Right. And so, the technologies that are in the manufacturing environment today are both automation technology, mechatronics as well as a lot of information technology. So software and networking and security are in the plant floor. And so I think to be successful, when you think about digital transformation, I think you have to have a core understanding of operations and manufacturing processes. I think you need to understand automation technology. And I think you need to understand information technology.
And so if you’re starting from an automation background and you have a fundamental understanding of operations, I would invest more time and energy in coming up to speed on information technology and vice versa. And so it really depends on where you start, but I think you’d need those three core areas of operations and manufacturing expertise combined with automation technology and information technology. And I think those are really key to making digital transformation happen.
No doubt. I mean, we’re seeing more and more, the, IT OT, convergence that those, those worlds are coming together. But I love that you brought the point up about the operations. Cause I think that’s something that’s probably overlooked or misunderstood. You need to have that understanding to really be able to provide valuable insight and input to make these changes.
Yeah. Ultimately, we’re not just implementing technology because it’s interesting, right? You’re implementing the technology to improve the way that the manufacturing process is working and to enable the people who are operating and supporting and sustaining the manufacturing operations.
And so understanding the fundamentals of how the operations are structured, the operating processes and what are the biggest areas to improve I think is a fundamental area.
Absolutely. Absolutely. So if you’re out there and you’re, you’re in manufacturing or you’re in industry right now, Tessa, when’s the time, when should you start? And how do you know that you’re ready to start working towards digital transformation?
I would say if you haven’t started now, I’d be a little worried. Because I do think exactly, I do think, I think a company’s ability to embrace. Technology and new ways of working will be a competitive differentiator.
And so those who really understand how to leverage technology to help their operations improve, I think, is going to be a way that companies are going to differentiate beyond the products that they’re making and how they’re taking those to market. And so I, I think the time is now for companies to get started.
I think a good way to get started is to first baseline your manufacturing operations. Understanding the technology footprint that you have today and getting an understanding of the maturity of your operations in terms of technology. And I think what companies will identify the level of maturity that they have, the connectivity they have across their equipment and their plants, they’ll understand the data that’s available to them. And then you are likely going to go down a path of upgrading and improving your automation and networking architectures within your plans to make sure that you have connectivity.
You can get access to data and then you can start driving some improvement use cases around that. But I think, there’s no better time than now for companies to understand where are we actually at? What are the capabilities of my existing manufacturing operations, and start to chart a path forward on how to invest in technology and evolving the way that they work and how their operations are working in order to, make sure that they’re ready for the future.
Right. And I think, as you said, establishing that baseline, if you haven’t got started, you really need to get going, but that, that baseline of understanding is a great way to get started, to know what you may have a lot of devices right now, or equipment that, that you could really begin working on it.
On a digital transformation path. You just need to know where you’re at. So I mean, to win any race you got to get started. So
Yeah, I think understanding your current state is a really great place to be. As you chart what your vision right is, is for the future and understanding what are the most important business objectives, whether it’s, improving customer service or bringing products to market more quickly or improving the quality of your products. I think as you really refine the business objectives, getting a good understanding of your current status is going to be really important.
This has been just such a fun conversation Tessa. You brought so much wisdom. We call it EECO Asks Why. We always end up with the Why. So if, if you’re out there and you’re listening and you’re in manufacturing right now, this may be an important answer. So Tessa, why is embracing digital transformation important to that continued success and growth of manufacturing in the future?
Well one. And I said it earlier, I think in order to be competitive in the future companies who embrace digital transformation and leverage it to improve their businesses are going to have a competitive advantage.
I think secondly, and probably most important, companies who embrace digital transformation will be places that attract great talent in the future. And so for all of us in manufacturing, we’re competing with so many other industries to attract really great talent to work in our organizations and help us build and operate our manufacturing operations.
And I think those who embraced digital technology will be competitive. And I think we’ll have the talent that they need to succeed in the future.
No doubt. I mean, I think that’s it. The workforce attrition problem we’re seeing, I mean, the more you can do to be attractive, to get people to want to come to work and be part of the big vision, that’s it.
These projects lead that, so this is, uh, this has been wonderful. Thank you so much, Tessa, for taking the time to be with us and walking us through this conversation around digital transformation.
Well, it was great to talk with you. Thanks for having me.