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Survey: Digitization in US Takes Hold But Has a Lot of Room to Grow

Brett Brune
By Brett Brune Editor in Chief, Smart Manufacturing
Plataine-survey-photo-at-SMX18-e1525204394195-300x226.jpg
Plataine’s Ofer Abramsohn, speaking at the Smart Manufacturing Experience today in Boston. (Photo by Brett Brune)

BOSTON — Most of the nearly 400 C-suite manufacturing executives recently surveyed by SME.org and the software firm Plataine on plans for factory digitization expect at least single-digit businessgrowth over the next three years, Plataine’s Ofer Abramsohn said here today, presenting the survey results for the first time at the Smart Manufacturing Experience.

Only 2% of the respondents said they were already “fully digital and automated.” Nearly one-quarter said they were “mostly digital.” Over half said they were moving toward digitization, describing themselves as “partly digital with some paperwork.” And just over 20% said they were still “paper intensive.” The survey participants mainly work in the US, Plataine said.

“Manufacturers are now facing unprecedented challenges of complexity and growth while connected technology, often known as Industry 4.0 or Industrial Internet of Things (IoT), brings the possibility of building the ‘digital factory:’ an industrial facility where all products, personnel, raw materials, machines and processes are being connected,” the survey partners wrote.

The promise of the digital factory is managers using real-time data “to continually optimize production operations and achieve higher levels of efficiency,” the partners added.

When those taking the survey were asked a multiple-choice question about potential growth areas associated with digitizing their factories, they responded thusly: Increase capacity (62%); allow growth (49%); increase market share (33%) and allow entry into new markets (31%).

The survey asked about business challenges digitization can resolve. Five themes emerged:

  • increase manufacturing capacity,
  • improve on-time delivery,
  • reduce quality risks,
  • shorten time-to-market and
  • streamline compliance requirements to ensure manufacturers are continuously audit ready.

“It clearly has to do with business capacity and the ability to grow,” Abramsohn said. “People are looking to grow. People are looking to be competitive. This is a clear vision all these leaders have.”

9 hurdles identified

The executives taking the survey cited nine common hurdles to digital transformation, which are experienced across multiple industries.

The potential complexity of new system integration emerged as the biggest challenge, with 44% of respondents citing it.

Nearly 30% said they expected their greatest hurdle to be a lack of human resources.

The other hurdles, in order of how widely shared they were among those taking the survey: too early to implement digital transformation; lack of management buy-in; lack of budget; need to improve cross-departmental workflows; lack of professional knowhow, lack of clear ROI data, and concern over cyber security threats.

Clear room for improvement

When the survey participants were asked about their current rework rate due to quality defects, nearly 40% said they did not know the rate. Just over 20% indicated a rework rate of 0-1.5%, 22% reported 1.6-3%, and 17% reported more than 3%.

The survey found that 35% were not using factory floor sensors. But many firms represented in the survey were using multiple factory floor sensors in their day-to-day operations. Machine/controller connectivity sensors were being used by 47%. Nearly 30% were using environment sensors, such as temperature and humidity sensors. And 24% were using RFID sensors.

Survey participants said supply chain collaboration was the most common digital factory strategy initiative. After that came digitization of manual/paper processes, efforts to implement robotics and automation, and connecting to shop-floor sensors.

OEMs first out of starting blocks

Among those surveyed, OEMs were by far the most active in terms of connecting to shop floor sensors, at 60%. They were also by far the most aggressive in terms of digitizing manual processes.

“OEMs have a clear vision on where they want to go, and we see much higher cometitiveness within the OEMs” compared with tier players in manufacturing, Abramsohn said.

Survey participants were spread among several industries: 26% aerospace & defense, 14% metals, 12% automotive, 8% engineering & construction, 5% medical equipment, 4% oil & gas, 4% furniture & upholstery, 4% electronics and 23% “other.”

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