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Manufacturing IT capabilities; more augmented than reality?

I’ve read a number of reports throughout the summer that seemed to indicate manufacturers were actively preparing for and embracing a digitised future. Yet only last month, Manufacturing and Logistics IT published the findings of some research conducted by InfinityQS that suggested nearly two thirds (64%) of manufacturers rated their shop floor IT capabilities as just average, weak or non-existent.

Back in May this year, when the Annual Manufacturing Report* was released, 85% of respondents said they were using digital technologies to transform their business, from design to customer engagement/retention. There’s clearly some smoke and mirrors going on here somewhere.

Indeed, a spokesman from Dell Technologies commented in the Manufacturing Report on the disparity within the sector. He pointed out that fewer than 17% of companies said ‘yes, we need to get digital technologies so we can prosper, we’re on it’, while a further 37% claimed to ‘get’ industrial digitalisation technologies (IDT) but hesitated in pulling the trigger to invest in them. He compared this seeming reality with the findings of a report that IDT could add £455bn to the economy in the next decade and improve productivity by 25% by 2025.

As I travel around, I see evidence of both ‘realities’, from the shop floors still relying on legacy systems and using pen and paper to record important data to those manufacturers that are putting digital solutions at the heart of their operations.

As has been reported, the barriers to widespread adoption seem varied, and the pace of correcting them equally so. When it comes to executive/boardroom buy in, for example, the Annual Report suggests there’s a 75/25% agreeing that senior management is onside.

I think the most concerning finding for me though was that only 10%* claimed to be completely confident they had found the right digital solutions, with a heavy spread of uncertainty throughout the rest of the findings. It was posed whether this strength of feeling reflected product choices or self-doubt in having made the right one when so many were available.

At a recent director’s forum the engineering lead of an electronics firm claimed technology was empowering her team to think outside the box and become more flexible and responsive. She further stated that it was allowing them to capitalise on small opportunities, ones they may have overlooked in the past as too small fry but which add up over time to noticeable gains. And this got me thinking, for example, about how workers can lose five to eight seconds every time they pick up, scan and place back down a handheld scanner.

This process can prove time consuming over a number of workers over a day whereas a simple solution, like Honeywell’s 8680i Smart Wearable, worn on a cut resistant glove or as a two-finger ring, improves worker transaction times by up to five seconds per transaction and reduces the need for multiple devices.

If you’re a regular reader of my blogs you’ll see I’m a firm believer in starting small and testing, a structured step-by-step process before replicating and rolling out a solution across an enterprise.

The necessity for action has never been greater in manufacturing and we, as digital technology suppliers, have a duty of care to evidence what works to counter the ‘tyranny of choice’ as suggested in one report. By offering firms the opportunity to rent hardware we are enabling them to adopt or try new solutions easily and without capital expenditure. If initiatives like this prompt cultural and technological transformation maybe we shall see real and sustainable change rather than an augmented one.

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