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SME to deliver third digital transformation report at IMTS

Christine Longroy
By Christine Longroy Automotive Industry Manager, SME

Throughout 2018, SME has published a series of Smart Manufacturing Industry Reports, with the third being released at IMTS this month. The reports, available at sme.org/reports, detail the necessity and advantages of smart manufacturing, the challenges to implementing digital solutions, and, finally, keys to implementing the technologies and tools.

The Smart Manufacturing Report Series helps manufacturers consider, evaluate and execute strategies to be prepared, engaged and strong as industry shifts to integrated advanced manufacturing technologies.

In the second report, five considerations were viewed by recent industry survey participants as barriers preventing or slowing an enterprise’s adoption of smart technology:

  • Cost
  • Lack of understanding the solutions needed
  • Uncertainty of benefits
  • Lack of a skill set to manage implementation
  • Lack of leadership to lead and plan

The third report details real-world implementation strategies and relatable successes by manufacturers.

Those already committed to and involved in smart transformation and implementation are not dismissive of “barriers,” but neither were they daunted by the challenges.

LAI International has been a premier provider of highly engineered, mission-critical components to aerospace, medical device and energy OEMs since 1937. Under CEO P.J. Gruetzmacher, LAI began its digital transformation six years ago. He noted that having a clear plan and committing to it is critical.

“Our mandate is to deliver a quality product on time at the right cost and do it safely. When I look at all projects in the company, I start with safety first, then quality, then delivery, then inventory, then productivity. We don’t have deep pockets, so we always have to do things nimbly and creatively and that’s what we did. We built electronic work instructions within our ERP systems; looked at our modules and said ‘how can we get to 4.0, but do it with our existing tools?’”

Gruetzmacher was convinced of the benefits and of his employees’ ability to adapt and adopt. “We flipped the switch one day, and said ‘this is how it’s going to be.’ There was no other option! We took away the paper, we put computers on every single one of the machines, and we trained and trained and trained. It worked out to be a perfect fit,” he said.

Lincoln Hughes, director of manufacturing product lifecycle management for American Axle & Manufacturing, attests to the initial challenge and the reward.

“Engineers can exhibit a lot of inertia; they don’t always like to use new tools,” Hughes said. “But the benefit? Through this connectivity, data collection and collation, anything you need is presented right to you: what you must do, when you need to do it—here’s everything you need to know [in order] to do it.”

Robert Krestakos, vice president of global operations at Steelcase, noted that with more variability or available configurations in a product, the benefits of a digital transformation become even more apparent. “We can be more predictive; we can look at a lot of different design options and know immediately whether or not we’re on firm ground from a quality and life-cycle standpoint,” he said. “Then, with confidence, we can layer scalability and agility onto that. Processes can be—and are—designed to allow for a wide range of configurations, yet still be extremely consistent in how they work.”

Actionable data is changing the game. Enabled by the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), data collection and analysis is providing operations managers the information to make better decisions and improve performance.

Those already implementing their enterprise’s digital transformation agree that, while barriers can stop or slow progress, adoption is the only option for success for a manufacturer intent on growth and innovation.

Success by early adopters underscores that, regardless of barriers, IIoT technologies add value, performance improvement, throughput efficiencies and consistent quality.

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