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by Jason Courtemanche, October 6, 2022

7 Critical Steps on the Digital Transformation Roadmap

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It’s time to revitalize American manufacturing now. 

There’s so much at stake here. In March 2022, the manufacturing sector employed 12,657,000 people with an average income of $92,832. Taken alone, manufacturing in the US would be the eighth-largest economy globally. 

A failing manufacturing sector would hit the US economy hard. The ripple effects would impact growth on a global scale. But when it comes to manufacturing, everything has changed. 

The how, what, why, and way we “make” are unrecognizable from a decade ago. There’s constant market disruption from forces as diverse as globalization, supply chain meltdowns, workforce shortages, and COVID-19. New digital technology is reshaping the whole landscape.

Many of the manufacturers we speak to feel they’ve lost control. But they know there’s a road back. That’s why 91% increased their digital transformation investments in 2021. 

Digital transformation empowers innovation and smart manufacturing, driving extraordinary outcomes. The manufacturers we work with increase profitability by 207% without growing the size of their workforce. They decrease engineering hours by 10x and reduce order errors by 30%. They become more competitive and agile and forge deeper connections with customers, partners, and employees. But achieving these results requires experience and careful planning. 

In a digital initiative, investing in new technology for technology’s sake doesn’t work. Manufacturers have to make fundamental changes across the digital transformation effort of their organizations. They have to reimagine how they store and disseminate data, automate their repetitive design and engineering processes, integrate systems and people, and promote communication and collaboration. 

This article breaks digital transformation in manufacturing down into digestible chunks. By the end, you’ll understand the scale of the challenge and have the confidence to start (or pivot) your digital transformation journey.

These are the critical steps we cover:

  1. Free Your People to Innovate and Grow (SSOT)
  2. Automate Sales and Configuration to Surpass Buyer Expectations
  3. Automate Engineering and Design to Drive Innovation
  4. Take Those Moonshots with Simulation and Testing
  5. Leverage Advanced Manufacturing to Solve Business Problems
  6. Integrate Processes, Systems, and People to Improve Automation
  7. Focus on Data Management to Collaborate, Communicate, and Innovate

digital-transformation-roadmap

1. Free Your People to Innovate and Grow (SSOT)

Manufacturing employees are often stifled by outdated systems and processes that hold them back from achieving their potential. With the right technology, data, and connectivity, you give your people the capability to innovate and improve your business.

The best way to increase the output of your workforce without hiring additional staff is by creating a single source of truth for your data-a centralized, up-to-date repository to which every employee has access (subject to permissions).

Freeing your data frees your people and removes the shackles of your business growth. It’s foundational to effective digital transformation. It improves collaboration and communication, letting teams analyze and optimize production, R&D, customer experience, inventory, supply chain, and, ultimately, profitability.

2. Automate Sales and Configuration to Surpass Buyer Expectations

In the digital era, shipping high-quality products on time is no longer sufficient. Manufacturers are cracking under the weight of increasing customer demands and expectations, which can be grouped into three main categories:

  1. i) Customers are demanding more technologically-advanced, connected products that can integrate with their systems and support them in their own digital transformation goals.
  2. ii) Customers are demanding a greater degree of product personalization. They want to configure products to their unique specifications.

iii) Customers are demanding greater control over how they buy, changing what the customer journey looks like. They want to self-serve remotely rather than transact through a sales rep and will happily purchase big-ticket items through online portals.

With a CPQ like Tacton, manufacturers can automate the increasingly challenging sales and configuration process, reducing pressure on sales teams, eliminating configuration errors, and empowering end customers to configure and place orders independently through online channels. 

Instead of relying on sales reps to configure advanced products using product knowledge stored in their heads, manufacturers can program their engineering and pricing logic into their CPQ and automatically let the software configure, price, and quote complex configurations. 

Automating sales and configuration means a sales cycle that used to take weeks and involved tons of back-and-forth between sales, engineering, and the shop floor now takes seconds, which dramatically reduces costs and improves the customer experience.

3. Automate Engineering and Design to Drive Innovation

Your valuable engineering resources are wasted on creating an endless stream of drawings and CAD models for products that customers might never purchase. By automating the bulk of the menial engineering and design workload, you can re-focus your engineering on R&D, where it can add real value.

Engineering and design automation works differently for every manufacturer. Some manufacturers automate everything (designers submit information→the software generates all engineering files→engineering files are sent downstream to the shop floor). Other manufacturers automate just a portion of the engineering workflow with modular design and automation strategies that save time without cutting the human touch. 

4. Take Those Moonshots with Simulation and Testing

Simulation lets manufacturers test new products and processes (including production, assembly, inventory, and transportation) virtually without the time and financial investment associated with physical prototyping and testing. 

Manufacturers can respond more quickly to customer demands, decrease time to market, and reduce costs at every stage in a product’s life, from R&D to production, returns, and field repairs.

Manufacturers can iterate rapidly with robust simulation software to improve functionality, safety, and cost. They can manufacture new products confidently and take those moonshots that would otherwise be prohibitively expensive. Think of simulation software as innovation insurance for your product development team.

5. Leverage Advanced Manufacturing to Solve Business Problems

Modern additive and subtractive fabrication techniques, advanced materials, new methods for casting and molding, and industrial robotics are just some of the advanced manufacturing processes reshaping “the way we make.” Unlike traditional manufacturing, which is best suited to mass production, advanced manufacturing makes mass customization profitable for the first time.

The Welding Institute (TWI) breaks advanced manufacturing technologies down into three buckets as follows:

  1. i) Efficient Production: Technologies such as rapid prototyping that involve design, simulation, and physical and computer modeling increase operational efficiency.
  2. ii) Intelligent Production: Implementing systems like predictive maintenance that use sensors inside machines to extend the life and optimal use of production facilities and equipment.

iii) Effective Organization: Technologies concerned with maximizing the impact of manufacturing resources. These include everything from virtual tendering to B2B e-commerce, shared facilities, and knowledge trading.

The key to successful digital transformation in manufacturing is investing in advanced manufacturing technologies that solve actual business problems rather than investing in new technology because it comes with impressive features and seems affordable. 

6. Integrate Processes, Systems, and People to Increase Automation

By integrating processes and systems, manufacturers can automate the entire end-to-end manufacturing process-from design through engineering and production, saving time, money, and personpower. Customers get their orders faster, inventory is stored for less time, and errors and delays are eliminated.

Integrating systems like CPQ, CAD, PLM, ERP, and CRM (much easier to do in cloud-based environments via APIs) creates a force multiplier effect that unlocks the full potential of powerful and often expensive software. Manufacturers experience faster time to value and superior ROI on their software investments.

7. Focus on Data Management to Collaborate, Communicate, and Innovate

At its core, digital transformation is about data-how we store it, access it, and use it. Effective digital transformation strategy means leveraging data to:

  • Better communicate, collaborate, and innovate
  • Improve processes, partnerships, and customer experiences
  • Derive data-driven insights that enable faster, better strategic decision-making.

Digital transformation success hinges on effective data management. Most manufacturers have vast data, but it’s poor quality-unstructured, duplicated, corrupted, and inconsistent. Often it’s scattered across multiple applications, sites, and accounts and lacks the metadata and naming conventions required to find and use it without hours of searching and finessing.

Industry-leading digital manufacturers use data management software like Autodesk’s Vault to centralize, standardize, and share engineering data. Vault tracks changes, revisions, and design history automatically. It deletes duplicates, names files according to pre-defined schemes, and makes it easy to save “baseline” designs for products that are primarily the same but require minor modifications. 

When data is managed effectively, product development is faster. Engineers can collaborate more efficiently with customers, suppliers, and contractors and can quickly find and reuse designs, so they don’t have to start from scratch every time.

A Quick Word About Culture

Follow the steps above, and you’ll be better placed than 99% of manufacturers for the digitalization of your business. But don’t ignore the importance of culture. Manufacturers without a digital culture are five times more likely to fail in their digital transformation initiatives. 

Adopting a digital culture begins at the top. Business leaders need a clear vision of what successful digital transformation looks like. They need a plan with milestones for getting there. And they need to communicate their vision and transformation roadmap to employees and other stakeholders.

Talk to us at KETIV about creating a streamlined digital strategy and a culture conducive to its execution.

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