It's time for factories to go digital

In a recent study by the consulting firm Capgemini, around 75 percent of the companies surveyed said they saw the digital transformation of their own company as the biggest current challenge they were facing. Internet of Things (IoT) projects are at the top of their agendas in this context. Although people have long recognized the strategic importance of digital concepts such as Industry 4.0, as the move to automation and data exchange in manufacturing technologies is known in Germany, implementation is obviously taking more time than expected. This is no wonder, because digital transformation goes far beyond process optimization.

At the operational level, manufacturing companies that have gone digital are able to make production faster, more efficient and more flexible - while at the same time improving quality. Digital transformation means bringing together isolated data silos, eliminating system discontinuities and doing away with paper-based workflows. The process supports differentiation of tasks, multi-level supply chains and modern employment models. And there is a further, strategic dimension: Digital transformation provides you with data that lets you create new products and make traditional products smarter and more intelligent.

The digital industrial site

Digital transformation, especially the Internet of Things, is increasingly changing how we live our private lives:

  • If we're looking for a hotel, we'll naturally use the internet and Google Maps, and also even use Street View to get an impression of the place.
  • The gas consumption of private households is frequently measured and reported by wireless sensors.
  • Intelligent garbage bins keep track of the how full they are and the individual bins report when they need to be emptied.
  • Sensors monitor free parking spots and guide motorists to where they are via app.

The exciting question is: how are digital technologies transforming traditional industrial sites? Will they become smart industry parks sooner or later? Will they become places that we can navigate comfortably and where you check in just as you would in a hotel? A prerequisite for this is that we equip our production sites with a digital map and offer visitors role-based information and assistance apps from the cloud. Then we could already take care of registration and security briefing via smartphone for visitors when they check in. Site operators and industrial companies would be able to provide visitors, suppliers, and service partners with mobile business apps via online portals. That makes it possible to collect their data in digital form and provide them with up-to-date information.

Today we spend a lot of time registering visitors, approving their visits, monitoring the visits and later documenting them. The digital revolution will make everything easier in the future. The potential for savings is enormous, because it will be possible to eliminate entire process chains. The digital revolution starts at the entrance to the plant, and safety comes first.

Digital transformation means working together with suppliers, partners, service providers and visitors across company boundaries seamlessly via digital technology. To achieve this, the production site has to be taken digital step by step. Cloud portals facilitate communication with internal and external partners and helps provide whatever information is required in a timely manner, for example via mobile business apps.         

Smart factories

The smart-factory model represents the digital transformation flipped vertically - from sensors on machines to the ERP system on the upper level of commercial decision making. In order for digital transformation to work, IT systems, machines, sensors, even parts and semi-finished products must be networked so that they can communicate with each other. This way system discontinuities are avoided and communication gaps are closed. The ideal scenario is to have fully automated production: parts communicate with machines. They automatically make their way through production and continuously report on the status of their processing. Machines and systems are able to recognize when they need maintenance on their own, so that downtime can be planned and reduced to a minimum.

The digital transformation affects the entire supply chain:

Germany's most well-known initiative for digital transformation, "Industry 4.0", not only encompasses manufacturing and production-related areas - such as materials management, quality assurance and operational logistics - but entire companies and entire supply chains. That's not surprising, because it is in collaboration between organizations that there is the greatest potential for optimization.

SMEs are still just getting started

If you compare the concept of the factory of the future with the current situation in small and medium-sized companies, the gap between concept and reality is still relatively wide. After all, the building blocks for smart factories have already been around for a long time: Whether we are talking about intelligent machines, tags and sensors, or cloud solutions for production management and data analysis scenarios - the technologies are mature and field-proven. In terms of technology, putting together a smart factory is not a problem. The real challenge is at the level of strategic organization, because Industry 4.0 is transforming the world of business. Here are three examples:

  • digital transformation is creating new business models, for example by linking products to information and supplementary services. Creativity, entrepreneurial thinking and a willingness to explore new territory are needed to meet future market requirements.
  • Digital transformation is increasing the demand for qualified staff with a level high of IT skills. But such staff is already hard to come by.
  • The focus is no longer on companies or individual departments, but the entire process of value creation across company boundaries. This change in perspective requires that organizational adjustments also be made.

Now is the time to take action

Digital transformation projects are complex. The spectrum of demands that have to be met makes having a multidisciplinary project team a necessity. But delaying such a project is risky. There are now many examples of how digitally savvy companies that are new to the market are supplanting established players and transforming entire industries.

So do not hold on to your traditional business model for too long. Find out about digital transformation and incorporate new technologies into your business strategy for the long term. Combine your experience with that new knowledge in order to secure the future of your company. It is not too late. COSMO CONSULT can provide you with support all along your path to becoming a digital company.

Ask our experts

COSMO CONSULT has many years of experience with digital transformation projects in many fields such as construction, industry, trade and services. What we offer is based on a clear methodology, on detailed knowledge of the processes in the industry, and on outstanding know-how when it comes to products. Our experts will be happy to advise you on the opportunities of modern IoT technologies. This includes, for example, deploying and networking sensors, mobile solutions and online portals to integrate partners, service providers and suppliers into digital processes. Just call us or send us an e-mail. We can discuss how your company can profit from going digital.

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