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Digital Transformation Challenges in Manufacturing


Adopting digital strategies for manufacturing processes will allow small to medium manufacturers to remain competitive.

Enterprise industrial manufacturing may be leading the way in digital transformation, but small to medium-sized manufacturers can still leverage new technology to build sustainable and successful operations. Ubiquitous IoT and low code development methodologies help manufacturers of any size reap the benefits of modernizing and transforming.

However, manufacturing digitization can present some fundamental challenges unrelated to the technology itself. The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and others have noted some common digital transformation obstacles and potential solutions.

The initial investment capital

Small to medium operations may not have the budgets larger enterprises do to invest in new solutions and adapt existing ones. This can be a barrier when operations “works fine as-is,” but manufacturers must learn to see the bigger vision. There will be investment costs upfront, but what is the cost of not adopting the technology to keep up with the times? With the right investment plan, manufacturers know how much to set aside and when.

The point isn’t tossing money at the problem. Instead, manufacturers need a plan for what improvements to make and how to measure the outcome. For example, an initiative to reduce both necessary and unplanned downtime using IoT sensors for predictive maintenance provides a logical place or investment and a measurable ROI.

Lack of knowledge/experience

As manufacturers increase their advanced manufacturing technology capabilities, many efforts seek to use advanced data analytics, artificial intelligence and machine learning, digital twins, and automation. As non-tech companies shift to digital adoption, the lack of knowledge in these and other areas can hold back progress. Manufacturing companies may not have access to a dedicated, in-house tech team to answer questions or suggest operational plans, so finding outside help can reduce the stress of adoption.

External consultants can guide manufacturing companies through logical investment plans, help make the shift easier, and provide guidance for what solutions merit adoption.

Outside tech companies, organizations are reluctant to adopt new initiatives because they know all too well what happens when those systems become obsolete. Technology changes faster than ever, leaving organizations holding the bag with legacy systems.

Legacy systems

Adopting a composable architecture could be one solution. Instead of one rigid system, composable architecture allows companies to replace components without tearing down the entire system. Bringing in consultants with specialized knowledge of manufacturing systems can also help create a plan for making the change while considering interdependencies.

Rigid infrastructure impedes digital transformation

Legacy systems are a conundrum for many manufacturing operations. Changing systems will require retiring outdated processes, retraining on the floor as well as in management, and a willingness across the board to embrace change.

Part of the investment plan is deciding where a company will receive the most return for digital adoption. In manufacturing, for example, predictive maintenance would provide significant ROI, so changing from a manual system to one automated by artificial intelligence could lead the way for further changes.

Resistance to change

It’s not just the technology. Employees may be highly resistant to change at first, so companies must shift company culture to help ease the transition. Organizations should work closely with departments to ease the change.

Adopting a culture of continuous improvement and exploration helps, along with highlighting the rewards of the shift to digitization. Addressing any privacy concerns or cybersecurity issues and job security also goes a long way to aiding change management.

Digital transformation: A new era of manufacturing

Obstacles to digital transformation in manufacturing are not the end of the story. Adopting digital strategies for manufacturing processes will allow small to medium manufacturers to remain competitive, so addressing each obstacle helps ensure the transition goes smoothly.

Elizabeth Wallace

About Elizabeth Wallace

Elizabeth Wallace is a Nashville-based freelance writer with a soft spot for data science and AI and a background in linguistics. She spent 13 years teaching language in higher ed and now helps startups and other organizations explain - clearly - what it is they do.

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