The benefits from the digitisation opportunity for manufacturing can fundamentally transform every aspect of a business. From Industry 4.0 in Europe to Made in China 2025, there are a growing number of initiatives globally that aim to help manufacturers embrace this potential. At a basic level, digitisation efforts involve integrating digital and physical systems in order to improve visibility, increase efficiency, add flexibility, and lower costs.

As digital standards coalesce, it is becoming easier to capitalise on the promise of digitisation by creating smart, connected factories. Standard protocols are being adopted, enabling firms to connect industrial equipment on plant floors.

With data from connected equipment, manufacturers stand to gain a new level of operational visibility across sites. This visibility is the foundation for major operational improvements, such as implementing predictive maintenance programs.

To be successful, a connected factory project must fit in with the current environment. Equipment can’t simply be taken offline to add digital components, and mission-critical systems can’t be completely redone or replaced. Employees cannot be asked to learn complicated new systems. Operations must continue normally and quotas must be attained. In short, core manufacturing operations cannot be impacted.

Determine your digitisation objectives

Digital technologies are transforming manufacturing. While you may not know exactly where you want to end up or what digitisation means for your organisation, it’s important to identify the kinds of business objectives that digitisation can support.

Digitisation is all about transforming manufacturing operations using the latest technology—and it often starts with connecting factory floor equipment. Over the past few years, the cost of components that support connectivity has fallen dramatically. Consumables like RFID tags now cost very little to include in products. Sensors are becoming more affordable, increasing the amount of new equipment sold with sensor capabilities built in, while older equipment can be retrofitted, or IoT-enabled, at lower price points. At the same time, it is now possible to collect and analyse massive quantities of sensor and device-generated data, thanks to technologies like the cloud and advanced analytics.

Digital transformation means harnessing capabilities like these to gain insights that you can use to make your manufacturing operation faster, more efficient, and more flexible. Benefits of digitally-enabled manufacturing can include:

  • Improved visibility across your manufacturing operations—make more informed decisions with a real-time picture of operational status
  • Improved utilisation—maximise asset performance and uptime with the visibility required for central monitoring and management
  • Reduced waste—take faster action to reduce or prevent certain forms of waste, thanks to insight on key production metrics
  • Targeted cost savings—benchmark resource usage and identify inefficiencies to support operational improvements
  • Improved quality—detect and prevent quality problems by finding and addressing equipment issues sooner

In addition to understanding the possibilities, it is important to determine target business objectives. This helps provide the foundation for a business case and serves as a benchmark for proving value. For example, let’s assume that one of your objectives is to respond more quickly when certain equipment breaks down.