In our prior post we noted how a panel of noted manufacturing and technology experts convened by the editors of Industry Week see the winds of change blowing in a manufacturing sector that all too often is unprepared for or resistant to the cultural change necessary to understand just how fundamentally manufacturing itself is changing.
We noted the recent explosion in the importance of data… of robotics and the Internet of Things… and how operational excellence in the coming years will shift to a greater focus on data, collecting it voraciously in order to better connect with customers and suppliers, to predict and reduce the occurrence of plant floor errors and to improve overall innovation.
So what is the cultural shift required, and how will companies manage it? (For brevity’s sake, see our prior post for a list of esteemed panelists at the Industry Week confab held earlier this month.)
As we noted at the start of our prior post, most companies simply don’t have the “tech culture to stitch it all together.” The shift is substantial. Today we often see that consumer technology is “digitally delightful” in the words of the Manufacturing Institute’s Jerry Jasinowski whereas the shop floor operator’s experience or that of the operations manager in a B2B environment is often notably lagging.
Quoting directly now from MSDynamicsWorld’s article on the conference (by editor Dann Maurno):
“It comes down to management commitment,” says Knoben. He views the typical control charts at manufacturing plants as marketing tools, used more to show a customer “we’re cool” versus drive operational excellence. But with the transformation and automation of data, “It has to change from a marketing tool to an embedded strategy of how to live life, and that requires management commitment over the years.”
Said Pisano, “A leader has to have a feel and appreciation for technology.” Leadership at a manufacturer that is behind in technology must adopt a whole new skill set and mentality.” That leadership will be critical because of the long-term commitment to a new strategy and path. “But the job of leadership is to push against inertial forces”: to experiment with digitalized technology without being completely risk averse (and there will be failures.) “It’s critical in terms of culture as well as strategy.”
Panelists noted that companies more tied to consumers seem to be making the shift, to a much larger extent than manufacturers, which just “haven’t made that shift yet.”
Pierfrancisco Manenti, VP of Research at SCM World points out that more technology can boost productivity. He goes on to point out: “You have to manage people still. You can’t go a day without reading how ‘devil robotics’ will rob our jobs; I don’t believe the hype.” In fact, he cites statistics that 24% of people believe automation is an opportunity to bring back manufacturing jobs; but they won’t be the same jobs, and they will require a different type of skill set.”
Finally, Microsoft’s Knoben points to China’s doubling of its labor growth and concludes: “We see clearly as this change happens, we are reevaluating automation in much different ways. We’re starting to automate more basic processes that operators could do in the past. Where the tradeoffs and benefits are, are not just in labor but in automation,” he said. Automation can be applied to every point in the value chain, from the vendors’ vendor to the customer’s customers (consider electronic billing and payments and vendor performance analytics).
In the end, one must conclude, it will require that cultural shift in mind-set we opened our discussion with, to ensure that the changes are pushed through from the top down in a world that is fast becoming interconnected, and a manufacturing sector that must – and if history is any guide, will – adapt to it.