The Covid-19 crisis has shown that digitalization is key, mainly in the industrial sector. But where do I start? This question is asked by many companies in the manufacturing or logistics sector, and the answer to it greatly conditions the future results of their transformation into a Digital Factory or Industry 4.0.
We hope the five steps briefly outlined below will help you put together your plan of action.
1. Changing your strategy
You are going to transform your factory, but how are you going to go about doing it? Perhaps you want to continue manufacturing the same products, but with greater efficiency in order to be more competitive, or maybe you are looking to transform your products. Companies such as Ybarra, IKEA and COVAP have heavily invested in Industry 4.0 and, although the change is not apparent to their customers, internal improvements have been enormous. Other companies such as Zara and Seat have transformed their process and products. The result of this phase will determine all the subsequent steps as it involves focusing objectives in terms of what can be expected, what data you want to obtain to make decisions and where the process of transformation is going to take you.
2. Getting everyone involved
For the Management Committee, establishing the digitalisation strategy, the investment to be made and the objectives to be met tends to be such a significant task that they often take things easier once this is done. However, it is precisely then that the most difficult part comes – getting everyone at your company on board. Training on new technologies and methods for transformation is crucial in ensuring the project does not fail at the various levels of decision-making at your company. Choosing a transformation method (lean, agile, etc.) helps greatly as it focuses messages. An external consultancy firm also helps as it is able to offer a different perspective from the one we are using to seeing, and keep the momentum of change at your company.
3. Optimising the process
Technology helps, but the basic process is fundamental. We often say that the digitalisation of an inefficient factory tends to result in an inefficient digital factory. Before investing a single euro in technology, the current process must be carefully looked at (following step 1) and the status quo challenged. Normally, up to 70% of improvements in quality, cost and delivery times obtained as a result of comprehensive optimisation processes come from working on the process and the other 30% from technology. In order to optimise the process, it is important you adopt a comprehensive approach which includes not only production, but also logistics, suppliers and generally speaking, all the components which make up the value chain. Working with experts during this stage ensures success and is fundamental. Examples of major companies which have effectively implemented this step before embarking upon digitalisation include Airbus, Alestis and Sintersa, all in the aerospace sector.
4. Automating and digitalising
You might find it surprising that these words do not appear until the fourth step, but this order is key in ensuring this phase, which is the one which requires the most investment, is successful. Once we have clearly defined our strategy, our team is on board and the process has been optimised, choosing the right technology will be easier. Just as not all of us need the latest mobile phone, each factory only needs technology suitable for its needs, no more, no less. For this step, it is important you work with experts who speak the language of both engineering and technology given that you will have to choose technological enablers, applications, data repositories and decision-making algorithms in accordance with the engineering the process is based on, and never the other way around.
5. Striving for constant improvement
Once you are on board with Industry 4.0, you don’t want to let your guard down. Regularly working on the 4 steps above is the key to success. Given the pace of technological progress, changes to technology are often what ensure you continually rethink your strategy, provide your team with regular training and keep them engaged, update the process and meet your objectives. By doing this, you will be more competitive and stand out from the crowd, as Airbus, Enel, Cepsa, Alestis, Sintersa and Puerto de Algeciras have done or are currently doing with the help of Ayesa.