Manufacturing IT capabilities; more augmented than reality?

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I’ve read a number of reports throughout the summer that seemed to indicate manufacturers were actively preparing for and embracing a digitised future.

Yet only last month, Manufacturing and Logistics IT published the findings of some research conducted by InfinityQS that suggested nearly two thirds (64%) of manufacturers rated their shop floor IT capabilities as just average, weak or non-existent.

Back in Spring, I recall seeing a report into the manufacturing sector that claimed 85% of respondents said they were using digital technologies to transform their business, from design to customer engagement/retention. There’s clearly some smoke and mirrors going on here somewhere.

Indeed, I even remember someone commenting in the report on the disparity within the sector. 17% of companies claimed to embrace industrial digitalisation technologies (IDT) as a means to prosper, while more than a third were holding back from actually investing in them. 

In October 2017, the government published a report saying UK manufacturing was falling behind the pack, despite estimations that IDT could add £455bn to the economy in the next decade and improve productivity by 25% by 2025. Yet here we are some 12 months on and little seems to have really moved forward in achieving our potential.

As I travel around, I see evidence of both ‘realities’. From shop floors still dependent on legacy systems and pen and paper to record important data, to those manufacturers putting digital solutions at the heart of their operations. 

As has been widely reported in the press, the barriers to widespread adoption seem varied, and the pace of correcting them equally so. Having executive buy in, for example, doesn’t seem to be an issue with many claiming that over three quarters of senior management is on side. 

But for me though, the most concerning revelation from manufacturing was that only one in ten claimed to be completely confident they had found the right digital solutions, with a heavy spread of uncertainty elsewhere. Is this because manufacturers question their product choices or doubt they’ve chosen the right one when so many were available.

At a recent director’s forum, the engineering lead of an electronics firm claimed technology was empowering her team to think outside the box and become more flexible and responsive. She further stated that it was allowing them to capitalise on small opportunities, ones they may have overlooked in the past as too small fry but which add up over time to noticeable gains. And this got me thinking, for example, about how workers can lose five to eight seconds every time they pick up, scan and place back down a handheld scanner.

This process can prove time consuming over a number of workers over a day whereas a simple solution, like Honeywell’s 8680i Smart Wearable, worn on a cut resistant glove or as a two-finger ring, improves worker transaction times by up to five seconds per transaction and reduces the need for multiple devices.

If you’re a regular reader of my blogs you’ll see I’m a firm believer in starting small and testing, a structured step-by-step process before replicating and rolling out a solution across an enterprise. 

The necessity for action has never been greater in manufacturing and we, as digital technology suppliers, have a duty of care to evidence what works to counter the ‘tyranny of choice’ as suggested in one report. By offering firms the opportunity to rent hardware we are enabling them to adopt or try new solutions easily and without capital expenditure. If initiatives like this prompt cultural and technological transformation maybe we shall see real and sustainable change rather than an augmented one.

Richard Gilliard

Renovotec is the UK’s largest independent rugged hardware and maintenance, software and services company. Managing Director Richard Gilliard has helped lead the organisation for over 25 years, supporting customers across many sectors including warehousing and distribution, transport and logistics, manufacturing, retail, healthcare, seaports and field mobility. Richard's drive is to enable firms through…

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