Digital Continuous Improvement Can Deliver the Promise of Industrial Transformation

July 20, 2021
In order to achieve your company's Industry 4.0 goals, it is essential to understand the drivers of digital continuous improvement (CI), where your company is starting from in their 4.0 and CI maturity, and what aspects of your organization to start with.

The concept of continuous improvement (CI) and—more specifically under the umbrella of CI—programs such as total productive maintenance (TPM), world class manufacturing (WCM), and lean are certainly not new; industrial organizations have been utilizing these strategies for the betterment of their operations for many years now. However, a closer look at these continuous improvement initiatives shows that they are in a strong position to deliver on the promise of industrial transformation (IX). 

According to LNS Research, industrial transformation (IX) is a “proactive and coordinated approach to leverage digital technologies to create step-change improvement in industrial operations.” Moreover, IX can be a subset of the overall trend toward digital transformation that many organizations are working to achieve.

At the heart of successful industrial transformation (IX) are three important aspects of any organization: people, process, and technology. Among these three key elements, many would point quickly to process as the place to start when transforming an organization. Not so fast. When looking at manufacturers with a proven background in improvement processes, we often see the focus is actually on people and technology as they are the real enablers to process improvement. 

In his latest research report, entitled, “Digital Continuous Improvement in an IX World,” LNS Research Principal Analyst, Andrew Hughes, examines the importance of digitizing continuous improvement programs, like lean, as part of a larger, IX strategy.  

“It is critical to get a balance between the introduction of digital processes and changes made to ongoing continuous improvement programs, such as world class manufacturing and total productive maintenance,” Hughes said. “One advantage of digitizing lean is the ability to add digital tools to existing processes to enhance lean principles without undermining the importance of traditional lean.” 

In his report, Hughes further explains that data is the driver of digital continuous improvement, and it must be both highly organized and readily available in order to produce desired results. He also explains that all manufacturers have a starting point from which they can transform their organizations and categorizes companies into five groupings, from the most prescriptive to the most flexible. 

“It is important to recognize which group you fall within as a starting point,” Hughes said. “This is key to planning your future as you move toward digital continuous improvement, and to ensure that your organization can handle the changes being proposed.”  

Based on a recent study by LNS Research, there is definitely a difference in digital continuous improvement adoption between industrial transformation leaders versus followers, and the gap is only widening. An average of 40% of IX leaders are engaged in digital CI as compared to only 16% of IX followers. Hughes encourages industrial organizations to move toward digital CI as part of their larger IX strategy. 

Fortunately, there are many possibilities when it comes to digitizing continuous improvement—some will require only small changes to process and programs, while others may require fundamental, organizational change. This depends on where an organization starts from in their IX and CI maturity.  

As industrial organizations move further into digital continuous improvement as part of their IX strategy, Hughes cautions organizations to not look at lean too narrowly. “Lean is not just a set of tools, rather it is a way of improving manufacturing with tools to support the program.  As we move toward digital lean, keeping the bigger picture in mind is essential.”

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