Manufacturing Digital Transformation: Insights from Industry Leaders

Industry Trends March 08, 2023

Getting critical information and data into the hands of frontline workers, disseminating best practices, and how to best evaluate ROI remain central themes for digital leaders in 2023.

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Getting critical information and data into the hands of frontline workers, disseminating best practices, and how to best evaluate ROI remain central themes for digital leaders in 2023.

We sought insights from digital transformation pioneers at Purina, Blue Diamond, and GAF to gain a deeper understanding of what it takes to bring manufacturing operations to the next level.

In this article, we examine four of the top themes from our recent interviews.

1. A Clear Strategic Priority - Getting Information into the Hands of Factory Workers

Our digital leaders see a variety of benefits in giving operators access to the needed right information, but they say it’s still a challenge to encourage adoption so workers use it in their daily decision-making.

“Our vision is to provide users with the information they need to make better, faster, quicker decisions that then serve our customers better,” said Jackson (GAF).

GAF’s digitalization efforts are focused on making information related to their “Four Healths” accessible: product, process, machine and material health. Tools have been deployed, accompanied by infrastructure upgrades. Now their focus is on “really teaching [users] how to take advantage of the information that’s available and learn different ways of working with [it].”

It’s a similar story at Purina. Their Connected Worker initiative is all about “trying to get the right information at the right time to workers, whenever and wherever they are,” Micena said. The company’s next big challenge is making sure operators can understand the data so they can take clear action, bringing together the separate data micro feeds so it doesn’t cause “death by a thousand cuts.”

Focusing on the factory, Blue Diamond’s overarching objective is to “give our team members the tools and access to the information they need to do their jobs safely and effectively, all while reducing non-value-added, and repetitive activities,” said Barnett.

2. Capturing Data and Insights for Sharing Best Practices

Thanks to it’s knowledge management and daily management features, a Connected Worker solution can be used for a wide range of data and insight-capturing possibilities.

“In terms of Poka’s app, [GAF] use(s) it as a knowledge management tool to share information and best practices across our sites. It’s a people-focused tool that tracks people’s skills and competencies,” said Jackson.

Best practice sharing is also a big part of how Blue Diamond consistently and safely makes the same products across facilities. They have three factories, each with their own culture. “What has always stood out to me is that so many good ideas already live out on the shop floor -

with our team members,” Barnett said. “Poka’s connected worker app is helping us standardize on solutions and ways of working that everyone can agree on as best practices, ultimately institutionalizing and disseminating that information throughout the factories.”

3. A Single Device

Our panel is also arming their operators with smart devices, in an effort to modernize the factory floor.

Purina is embracing this strategy wholeheartedly. Every new employee is handed an iPad on their first day. It’s part of the toolkit they use for downtime tracking, information gathering and completing reports. For Micena, it’s “meaningful technology in the right place”.

It’s how they're quickly updating the stereotype of the factory as an outdated place to work - “changing the myth of the factory of the ‘50s”- a place where a new employee’s family member may have worked back in the day, that’s unsafe and technologically backward. Micena says they see engagement just from providing every employee with a tablet of their own.

At GAF it’s all about manufacturing-friendly digital tools accessible to frontline workers via smart devices as an easy, centralized access point. They use tools that are specifically designed for frontline operators, engineers and supervisors. Their single-user devices will help make it easier for workers to “jump from app to app as seamlessly as possible,” Jackson said.

4. Measuring the ROI of Digital Transformation Initiatives

This question revealed different perspectives, with answers ranging over the full financial spectrum.

Starting with Purina, who has the most traditional viewpoint on how they determine success KPIs for their digital investments. Micena said they have a structured financial review process that considers costs. They aim to be conservative with project costs, examining how a new investment would affect their bottom line and savings.

Don’t mistake their financial moderatism for digital hesitancy, though. Micena outlined his department’s unofficial goal of 30% project failure. “If we’re not failing a certain percentage of the time,” he said, “We’re not pushing the envelope enough. We just don’t want those failures to be huge.”

With similar traditional KPI criteria, Blue Diamond focuses on being good financial stewards for their grower owner’s money (as a co-op) and delivering a strong return. For digital transformation projects they will evaluate feasibility based on some basic indicators like Internal Rate of Return and Return on Investment. “We certainly acknowledge the financial side of things, but also see the broader importance of keeping our team members safe and maintaining our ability to produce a product that meets our food quality standards,” Barnett said.

For their Connected Worker solution, Blue Diamond will be evaluating time saved in training and onboarding, as well as downtime reductions.

Jackson for his part offered a realistic point of view noting that it’s extremely difficult to measure the ROI of digital tools. For GAF, new technology may contribute to effectiveness and efficiency, but there’s not necessarily a dollar amount tied to those improvements. With their Connected Worker solution, they’re not looking for a set financial return, instead “it’s to return culture, knowledge and a way of working,” Jackson said.

And to evaluate that new way of working, Jackson will look for overall improvements in onboarding time, unplanned downtime, OEE, worker turnover and overtime.

Connecting the Dots

These interviews - excerpts from our Manufacturing Digital Transformation Advice and 2023 Priorities ebook - give a great snapshot into the inner workings of three manufacturers’ industrial transformations.

Though digital transformation looks different for every company because each organization has unique guiding principles, challenges and goals; we did see important similarities bubble up, including getting curated, contextualized information into the hands of frontline workers, providing smart devices for easy access and sharing best practices across global facility networks.

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