How Technology Can Support Industrial Operations

Nov 30, 2022 6:58:00 AM . Julia Walsh

Understanding the Role of Technology, Talent, and Innovation in Manufacturing Transformation!

Gartner recently posted that 36% of manufacturing enterprises realize above-average business value from reasonable IT spending when compared to their peers. This statement reveals not only the value of approaching digital transformation in the right manner but also the underlying truth that companies generating higher value from IT are leveraging modern technology better through effective innovation and dedication to transformation.

Industry 4.0 is more about IT than process technology. This is the first lesson for manufacturing leaders. Automation and robotics, while vital parts of the new revolution, do not necessarily define it. IT platforms that are cloud-based, composable, AI and advanced analytics enabled, and equipped with the power of IoT and mobility will shape the future of manufacturing. IT is by and large the most important component of Industry 4.0, and a company’s approach to adoption, implementation, and standardization across their manufacturing ecosystem can mean massive success or total failure. It all depends on the choices they make about the IT platforms used, the teams they deploy to implement them, and the effort they put into ensuring digital becomes the DNA of their entire value chain. 

Understanding the Power of Technology:

Deloitte recently published a report in which they describe the role of exponential technologies and how, when combined with the right talent, they create unprecedented levels of efficiency and innovation in manufacturing operations. All of the exponential technologies described in the report–sophisticated hardware, innovative software, sensors, big data, and analytics–all exist today, but it is the way they are used to bring the physical and digital world together that can help companies scale and achieve exponential results. 

IoT, modeling, and simulation coupled with big-data analytics seem to be the top technology investment areas for manufacturers. These technologies, when used in the right combination by the right set of talented team members, can create agile and resilient operations that deliver innovation and reveal untapped areas of value. Companies that get their digital game right would be known for developing innovation ecosystems.

Top Tech Shaping Manufacturing- Deloitte points out the top technologies shaping manufacturing today: advanced analytics, digital design, IoT, and other technologies to look out for.

Advanced Analytics- For manufacturers, advanced analytics translate to new actionable insights that go beyond generic trends and intelligence. They deliver the capability to make semi-autonomous or fully-autonomous predictions and subsequent value-adding decisions. Deloitte talks about the creation of self-learning supply chains and automated decision-making as the future of analytics in manufacturing. Remember that at the base of all this is data that has been collected and collated such that it can be presented in the right context for timely predictions and decisions.

Digital Design- Digital design is the use of simulation to create products and processes. This is the convergence of the physical and digital world that we mentioned earlier in the post, where changes in one are not only recorded in the other but also acted out. Digital twins and shop-floor simulations improve the visibility among key members of the supply chain along with the results in development, manufacturing, and support of a manufactured product, covering its entire lifecycle.

IoT- Sensors have been in use for ages in manufacturing, but IoT (smart software combined with uninterrupted and secure network connectivity and cost-effective sensors) can deliver exponential results in plant performance by allowing assets to communicate digitally. With IoT platforms, it is finally possible to have a smart, connected value chain that moves slowly toward decision-making autonomy, at least for regular tasks. Again, data remains key, along with the way IoT and other enterprise platforms use it to enable autonomy and automation.

Other Tech- Additive manufacturing (also referred to as 3-D printing), advanced material, blockchain, biotechnology, next-gen computing, and the interface of things all form the technology gamut that can help manufacturers propel their companies beyond their competitors.

For the first time since the industrialization of manufacturing, manufacturers have the opportunity to choose and play with the technologies that best fit their future visions and can deliver the most untapped value. For some it will be the use of 3-D printing to customize products at the market’s edge, for others it will be the use of biomanufacturing to cut carbon emissions and make more sustainable products. The possibilities are limitless if the right combination of technologies and talent is concocted.

Webalo Insights:

As with all great transformation efforts, the most important resource that can make or break an entire project is and always will be the human resource. Manufacturers need to understand the following two vital points about digital transformation and Industry 4.0.

People Are the Key- Leaders and C-suite members in all manufacturing companies need to ask themselves one question before they even begin to strategize their approach to leveraging the exponential technologies highlighted by Deloitte: Are our people, and more specifically our frontline workforce, ready for the digital transformation? The answer to this question is “no” if your frontline workforce does not use a digital platform to do their day-to-day jobs and if they collect and enter data manually on paper-based forms and spreadsheets.

Data First and Foremost- Data is the driving force behind Industry 4.0, as are the IT platforms that extrude intelligence from raw data. Manufacturers need to take a long, hard look at how data is collected within their operations, specifically on their shop floors and in their supporting functions. Unless a base exists that allows for data to be collected from the shop floor in real time,  manufacturers’ chances of extracting value from transformation efforts are slim.    

So, what needs to be done if the frontline is not digitally ready and data collection is mostly manual?

This is where Webalo comes in.

Webalo digitizes the tasks of the frontline workforce while forming an envelope that encompasses the entire production operation and its support functions. With this one platform in place, manufacturers can lay the foundation for a Workforce Intelligence Center that will help them embark on their digital transformation efforts. Figure 1 shows how Webalo fits the exact gap that exists between shop-floor and enterprise applications and allows for data to be collected and presented in context to enterprise applications. This then enables real-time decision-making and forms the basis for future autonomy.

Webalo begins with the digitization of forms and workflows across an operation before linking all tasks and processes and finally connecting the entire operation from beginning to end. The platform allows users to develop their own apps with an OS-agnostic infrastructure. Webalo is an easy-to-use and intuitive platform that helps the worker frontline gather the raw data needed to generate business and operational intelligence through AI and ML applications. 

As highlighted by Deloitte, most of the technologies that are considered exponential rely on the ready availability of actionable data and a workforce capable of using this data to generate better value at scale across a group. Both of these deliverables are met with Webalo in place because it elevates the workforce to a more digitally educated and data-savvy level while ensuring data from the shop floor reaches the top floor as events happen and transactions occur. With Webalo, achieving exponential value creation becomes a reality!