Back to the Basics

April 19, 2019
In the evolving world of digital transformation and concepts like smart manufacturing, Industry 4.0 and cognitive manufacturing, it is important to remember the fundamentals.

In preparation for a workshop that I’ll be facilitating at an upcoming conference, I decided to do some research in advance. While deeply entrenched in watching several online videos, I found myself at times needing to look up several lofty and idealistic concepts.

As an individual who has been immersed in the automation and digital worlds for more than 25 years, I started to wonder if there were others that were just as challenged in understanding all this consulting-type verbiage? In fact, how does the average person working on the factory floor make concepts like smart manufacturing, Industry 4.0 and cognitive manufacturing come to fruition—if in fact you need a master’s degree or perhaps even a Ph.D. just to fully understand what’s being talked about.

There are companies that are well on their way to executing or even reaping the benefits of smart manufacturing initiatives. However, as I recall, none of them referred to these concepts during my visits. Instead, all were driven by a set of fundamental principles that anyone could understand.

This got me thinking that maybe in the swirl of all this fancy verbiage and acronyms, we have lost sight of what is important and mission-critical. Maybe in this era of digitization, the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) and data analytics, we need to get back to the basics. Just as plant managers are trying to streamline their operations, maybe all of us need to simplify our approach and focus on a set of fundamental principles.

Below are the five common principles that each of the companies I visited were guided by:

  1. Clearly defined business drivers.
  2. Both horizontal and vertical sponsorship.
  3. Recognition that the transformation includes business processes and culture changes—not just technology.
  4. Clarity and accountability on the end state, timing and measurable goals.
  5. Acceptance that change won’t be seamless.

The overriding belief that a concept should dictate an action is fundamentally flawed. If anything, what these customers have taught me is that a fundamental business issue should be the catalyst to potentially taking action and not the reverse.

Therefore, for all those contemplating taking action to affect a smart manufacturing, Industry 4.0 or cognitive manufacturing initiative, you need to pause and consider getting back to the basics. After all, we all know that you don’t put the cart before the horse.

>>Shaunna Balady is a member of the marketing committee for MESA International. She is also vice president of business development and government contracts for Manufacturing Automation & Software Systems, leading the company’s strategic planning process.

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