Digital Transformation: What Manufacturers Should Expect from Integrators

Oct. 2, 2023
Early discussions between integrators and manufacturers that focus on too many preconceived approaches or preconfigured software can limit capabilities, lead to a lack of engagement and impact the success of the program before it starts.

A variety of individual expectations around functionality and results often surrounds digital transformation programs. While the technology and software play vital roles in the program, they are not what will define the outcome of your digital transformation roadmap.

When engaging with a system integrator for a digital transformation program, manufacturers should be able to answer these two integrator questions:

  • What key functions and operations are the primary areas to address in the program?
  • What should success look like to all stakeholders involved?

It is critical in the early stages of the process for manufacturers to have the right leadership in attendance to avoid any ambiguity and have honest, clear discussions about what success looks like and when it will appear. Weak requirements will result in unexpected costs, schedule slips and a loss of faith/trust in the transformation initiative.

Without a commitment to requirements and engagement with leadership, there is a significant risk that there will be issues on solution acceptance from both the plant and corporate perspectives. A worst-case scenario is that during the first “go-live” for the program, the technology does its job, yet the customer does not understand it.

While a new system installed as part of a digital transformation project may deliver exponentially more production insights than was ever available before, manufacturers will undoubtedly have granular questions about individual view capabilities and other ancillary details. Even if the plan is to provide those functions in future phases, without significant early buy in and leadership guidance throughout, there is a potential for an unpleasant reaction when such questions arise. When this occurs, it leaves the digital transformation team scrambling to address these new requirements to keep the program on track.

The foundational approach

As a best practice for digital transformation programs, it is imperative that all stakeholder requirements be fully understand and vetted through an iterative process using specifications, mockups of the system and real world working software demonstrations.

At the end of the requirement and definition process, manufacturers should expect a key deliverable to be a technology roadmap that consists of a standardized approach for the controller and raw data concentration, a layer of supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) to normalize and funnel the data and that works in concert with a standardized manufacturing execution system (MES) application. A typical architecture includes acquisition of aggregated and pre-conditioned data, a data historian, and a software-as-a-service (SaaS) cloud-based MES performance tool such as Aveva Insight Performance.

To make such an architecture come to life in the implementation phase, manufacturers should realize that site and inventory assessments will need to be completed for each of the in-scope manufacturing facilities. Based on these assessments, the integrators can develop detailed scopes of work that outline what equipment will be considered as most impactful and how to approach their integration with existing systems. The first phase of the project may only include a subset of the assets for each line to drive an initial understanding of OEE (overall equipment effectiveness).

With a solid plan and an agreed-upon understanding of the goals, the program can then be executed and delivered on the promise made to the manufacturer.

Key takeaways

If the manufacturer’s stakeholders are not fully engaged early and often, it is easy for a misconception to occur regarding the program’s plan and intended results. This potential issue exists regardless of the digital transformation program size.

The beginning assessment and definition phase in any digital transformation program is critical to defining accurate, well-detailed statements of work and the manufacturing organization’s expected future state. As with any journey, you need to know where you are before the integration team can know where it can/should focus efforts and what that will entail.

Once the assessments and project definition are complete, the integrators will examine the program to define what your digital transformation roadmap and architecture should be to propel the organization competitively into the future.

Matt Ruth is President at Avanceon, a certified member of the Control System Integrators Association (CSIA). For more information about Avanceon, visit its profile on the CSIA Industrial Automation Exchange