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Digitalization and the “Low Hanging Fruit”

I talk often about automation, Industry 4.0, IIoT as a silver bullet, and you know, all of those buzzword terms that are popular in manufacturing right now. But, there is some truth in what can happen when manufacturers embrace these ideas. Digitalization in manufacturing can actually have immense benefits.

I like to call two of the biggest benefits of digitalizing processes in a manufacturing environment “low hanging fruit”. Simply because, once you implement an automation solution, these two benefits will happen almost instantaneously. Manufacturers will immediately see:

  1. More timely access to data and automated end of shift or end of day reports
  2. Saving time and resources by eliminating manual reporting

The low-hanging fruit is not only easy to achieve, but manufacturers will see a profound impact on their return on investment, too. In this blog, we’ll talk about how digitalization transforms industries and how manufacturers can take advantage.

1. Timely Access to Data

It’s common in a manufacturing environment to not know what’s going on in the plant until the day is over and a report is compiled. The data at hand is only as good as the last time the spreadsheet report was updated. It’s not timely, problems won’t be caught in time, and historical reporting and trending are very difficult. Frankly, manual reporting is counterproductive.

With timely access to data, you know where you stand at the end of the day and are able to determine what you need to do tomorrow to catch up.

2. Saving Time and Resources

You’re saving a lot of time for a lot of people to produce those reports. Think about it, how much time do you or your employees spend time compiling reports? The people that were once spending 20-40 hours per week collecting data and compiling reports now have time to do other value-added activities.

Maybe it’s 15 more minutes per shift an operator has to concentrate on making products instead of writing data down. Or, the supervisors can spend time working on continuous improvement projects instead of monitoring data collection. Or, the people in the office producing reports now have an extra 15 minutes to focus on essential activities.

The biggest win is for executives or engineers or people who need to dig through the data. Countless hours are being saved. Instead of combing through spreadsheets to understand what happened, insights are available with a single glance. Understand easily, without hours of data analysis, what happened last week, month, quarter, or even year. The data is at your fingertips.

Just imagine the value of timely access to data and the sheer amount of time and resources saved.

You’re no longer paying your most valuable resources to make spreadsheets; you’re paying them to solve problems and motivate people. This will inherently improve productivity, efficiency, and the bottom line. The impact of digitalization on manufacturing is profound.

The Next Step is…. Downtime

We know the impact of digitalization on manufacturing immediately provides access to timely data and the elimination of manual reports, but what about the next step? What will be the next “lowest hanging fruit” so to speak?

Downtime. That’s the next goal. I have yet to meet a manufacturer who hasn’t faced downtime problems at some point. It’s a very, very common problem to have in the industry, yet most manufacturers have yet to find a solution that will actually improve or even eliminate unplanned downtime. They’re stuck asking themselves:

“Why do we have downtime? What is the cause of downtime and where is it coming from? Where is the bottleneck in the process? Is downtime causing delays in meeting customer demand? Why are we not on time?”

The answer most manufacturers don’t want to hear is that the cause of downtime could actually be multiple different reasons. I recently wrote about the 8 common mistakes I see manufacturers make, and one is planning off of faulty assumptions. Once you have real data, you have good assumptions, better assumptions. But, where does good data come from? The answer is digitalization.

With access to good data and better assumptions, maybe you realize that you’re always behind schedule, all due to unplanned downtime.

I’ve found that downtime is the root cause of many, many other problems. So, if you’re listening to my advice, it would be to start there. Look at the data. Analyze the reports. Drill down into what’s causing the unplanned downtime and work to fix it. You’ll likely find a lot of other problems will correct themselves as a result.

How Manufacturers Have Benefited from Digitalization

I’ve seen it firsthand with our customers. I’ve also found that all of this information about digitalizing processes and low-hanging fruit probably resonates more when it comes from an actual manufacturer, rather than the guy behind the software. So, if you don’t want to believe me, listen to these guys about the impact of digitalization on manufacturing had in their plants. They know what they’re talking about.

Lyons Blow Molding saw a massive reduction in manual reporting and this led to mistake-proofing the plant. Many processes are automated that used to manual before, and they’ve seen tremendous improvements as a result.

Understanding downtime was the focus at H&T Waterbury. They knew they had some unplanned downtime, but it was in short increments. When they digitalized their processes, it became apparent just how much unplanned downtime there was. They had no idea how bad it really was until they had visibility into it. Then, they were able to come up with a plan of action that corrected the problem.

At Tacony, clearing the backlog from bottlenecks, getting visibility, and creating a plan of action for people to work on next were the focuses. They were able to eliminate a 14-week backlog and gain $500k in unrealized revenue.

These are all examples of real-life manufacturers who were able to see immediate gains by digitalizing their processes. Timely access to data, eliminating manual reporting, and unplanned downtime reduction were all huge wins.

These are the easiest things to solve initially. Is it industry-specific? No.

Examples of Manufacturers Mastering Digitalization

Tacony Achieved a 9x Return on Investment

By thinking outside of the box, Tacony was able to improve productivity and generate revenue in both operations and distribution, creating efficiency throughout. Read  ›

H&T Reduced Downtime by 73%

The largest battery component manufacturer was able to eliminate weekend overtime and reduce overall downtime by 73%. Read  ›

Oral BioTech Reduced Scrap 99.8%

Oral BioTech was able to increase OEE by 25%, nearly eliminate scrap, create visibility on the floor, and promote transparency among employees. Read  ›

The Impact of Digitalization on Manufacturing

Once you get beyond the immediate benefits of timely access to data, saving time and resources by eliminating manual reporting, and determining what is causing unplanned downtime, what you’re going to look at may be slightly different depending on your industry. If you’re a job shop, you will look at utilization instead of cycle times, if you’re a food manufacturer, you are highly focused on key food manufacturing KPIs like quality. When you go beneath that, it’s downtime, scheduling, and efficiently moving product through the plant to be able to deliver on time.

KPIs vary based on industry, but one thing remains the same – digitization helps improve processes and KPIs, eliminates manual reporting, and increases efficiency.

How do you know what you need to work on next once you’ve digitalized and improved the main processes? This becomes highly dependent on the company. Looking at the reports and understanding where you’re falling behind will guide your next steps. By doing this on a regular basis, it will become clear what you need to work on.

Just remember, there are 3 things you can do to ensure success with manufacturing productivity software once you’ve implemented the technology. Put up scoreboards and operator screens, use automated reporting, and look at dashboards in your daily meeting. Meeting your goals and making improvements will become that much easier. That’s the impact of digitalization on manufacturing.

Picture of Bryan Sapot
Bryan Sapot
Bryan Sapot is a lifelong entrepreneur, speaker, CEO, and founder of Mingo. With more than 24 years of experience in manufacturing technology, Bryan is known for his deep manufacturing industry insights. Throughout his career, he’s built products and started companies that leveraged technology to solve problems to make the lives of manufacturers easier. Follow Bryan on LinkedIn here.