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Digital Transformation in Production – Launching Manufacturing 4.0 in Seven Steps

Published: · Last updated: · 8 min reading time

With Industry 4.0, the digital age has arrived in production. With the Internet, completely new possibilities for resource efficiency have opened up and new paths toward sustainable business have been paved. Now there is an opportunity for companies to use forward-looking technologies in large numbers for higher productivity and greater competitiveness. These options must be sifted through, analyzed and successfully implemented. This raises the question: How can the digital transformation succeed? 

Four aspects of the digital transformation of manufacturing

Seven steps for digital transformation 

1) Define a clear strategy

The first step is to clarify the direction in which the digital train is to travel for the company in the future. To do this, the decisive course must be set. Everyone involved in this process must have the same understanding of the  digital transformation. 

If it is not yet clear which product is to be offered on the market in the future, a systematic process is recommended to identify the new goals and paths – for example, through the FORCAM Process Playbook or through the methodology of design thinking. 

The FORCAM Process Playbook is a systematic guide for analyzing and structuring company processes along the value chain. The goal is to improve processes and thus increase efficiency, flexibility and sustainability. 

The FORCAM Playbook offers the possibility: 

  • to align customer processes with compatible products and specific use cases 
  • to integrate FORCAM and ENISCO components and product solution(s) 
  • to conduct training for the digital empowerment of a company’s employees, and 
  • to jointly develop innovative and intuitive smart factory solutions 

The design thinking method is also ideal for a systematic approach to a complex problem. Design thinking places the question of user wishes and needs in the foreground. In design thinking, one puts oneself in the role of the user or end user. Through feedback from the user, a broad spectrum of solutions can thus be quickly found with regard to the original problem. 

2) Make an inventory

In order to find and close gaps, the first step is to take stock of the current state. This involves the factors of technology, people and organization. 

In the case of the human factor, it is important to determine the extent to which employees have the necessary knowledge and skills to help shape and implement the digital transformation. The tasks involved here must be distributed in such a way that they correspond to the skills and strengths of the respective employee. 

The organization must be assessed for its agile capabilities and the associated reactions to change. The basis for this is to analyze how far the technical devices and the processes are already networked with each other. It is necessary to see where production has some catching up to do in terms of digitization and how the transformation process can be supported in this direction. 

3) Create a roadmap

In the previous two steps, a concrete goal was defined. The roadmap now shows which main and sub-tasks need to be completed on the way to the goal. Milestones are also defined in the roadmap. This gives the company a concrete, roadmap overview of the correct allocation of resources as well as tasks. Like a puzzle that is gradually put together, an increasingly concrete picture emerges with the respective fields of action on the path to Manufacturing 4.0. 

4) Selecting suitable technology

In step 1, methods were described with the help of which concrete indications of the future technological orientation are already given from the user’s point of view. This means that a major step toward Manufacturing 4.0 has already been taken. The task now is to select and implement technological solutions on the market that will help the industrial company with the digital transformation. 

Tip: With the EDGE CONNECT connectivity solution, so-called brownfield machines are digitally retrofitted. The need to invest in new machines is eliminated. The data from the brownfield machines can be used in solutions such as MES LITE or MES FLEX for real-time analyses to further increase resource efficiency and productivity. For partially or fully automated production types, E-MES is the best field-proven solution.  

Take the example of a manual workstation: An assembly worker needs both hands for his work, for example to complete a task with a conventional hand scanner. With the help of new technology, connected via EDGE CONNECT, he can be supported in his work by gesture, voice and gaze control and thus work more efficiently. A smart glove containing a scanner and smart glasses that show him certain data on the display are conceivable here. 

5) Create prototype 

With a first prototype of the future product, you leave the planning prototypes from the strategy phase behind. In this phase, the focus is on the functionality of the product. The task now is to make the prototype available for testing to a specific group of people. In this phase, it is extremely important to obtain feedback from the people testing the product as early as possible so that this feedback can be incorporated into the product.  

In this way, the product gradually develops into a final product that is suitable for customers. Another advantage of the prototype is to show potential investors that their investment has paid off and that the product is on the right track. 

6) Start pilot production

Now comes the decisive phase, when the product goes into production. The first step is to start with a pilot so that all systems and processes can be tested. The production teams must decide which technical systems harmonize and communicate best with each other. Once the required technologies are determined and integrated, the processes must be aligned with the corresponding project plans and associated milestones. 

In the manufacturing industry, the overall process is crucial: All processes, order and material flows should therefore be simulated and played out in advance – especially critical situations and alarm cascades. This ensures that all teams can intervene and react appropriately in good time in subsequent real production. 

7. Start series production 

In the final step, the newly integrated Manufacturing 4.0 process is finally launched and the new product is brought to market locally or globally. Once all strategies and plans have been fixed and all processes have been tested in advance, the “go live” of Manufacturing 4.0 is primarily about the logistical challenge of scaling from small to large. 

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