How to create a new smart manufacturing culture

How to create a new smart manufacturing culture

ATS Global's Mike James explains how manufacturers are negotiating change in the age of Industry 4.0

Caspar Herzberg |

This article was originally published in the Summer 2018 issue of The Record. 

A key topic headlining this issue of The Record is that companies are changing from a process-first to a culture­-­first approach when it comes to digital transform­ation. In the manufacturing industry we are drilled to follow process – if the process is perfect the product will be perfect. So, how does the manufacturing industry move from a ­process-first approach to a culture-first approach? And is such a change beneficial?

Let’s look at one aspect of digitisation: internet of things. When our machines are connected we can distribute real-time data to consumers of that data anywhere in the world. This is where we are treading into a potential Alice in Wonderland world. Many large IT companies are peddling services to provide real-time manufacturing data to mobile users. It’s exciting, but is it useful? A CEO visiting Japan can see that production is down in Turkey. What is she going to do? She’d probably call the local plant manager to find out why so she can be prepared to tell the bad news to her boss. However, this process is pointless, so both the CEO and the plant manager are wasting their time.

Perhaps a more valuable approach is to figure out how to use the data for decision making. The digitisation tools are available and many companies are investing in them, but who is thinking how best to deploy them? Usually it’s manufacturing engineers and managers who follow a process to implement solutions. Many follow the Lean Six Sigma methodology, which leads to a culture of learning. It’s a process expressed over and over again in the classic Lean and Six Sigma step-by-step programmes.

It would therefore seem that there is already a culture-first attitude close to the shop floor. Now, we need to mix this with the new opportunities offered by smart digital transformation, but not forget that process is critical to great deployments. Executives should trust their teams to use this combination of culture and process. Executives should also motivate teams by asking for applications that will actually help the company to improve the business, rather than making them feel as if they are in control. Get executives in a room with engineers and they will feel the power of smart digital transformation.

Mike James is chair of the board of directors at ATS Global


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