One of my favorite people in the world is my grandmother, I always try to go see my grandpa and her whenever I’m in my hometown. A typical visit consists of three things: friendly chit-chat as she prepares enough food to feed a small Ethiopian village, consumption of a month’s worth of calories, and a tour of all the new home and farm updates. However, there is one question that I am often asked when I visit that makes my skin crawl—can you try to fix my computer? “Fixing” her computer usually just consists of me reconnecting it to Wi-Fi, resetting her password(s), logging into her email account, or reminding her that Facebook is not a search engine. But sometimes I really have no clue what she could have done to that poor device and I spend hours trying to figure it out. At the end of the day, I am happy to help her. It’s not her fault she didn’t grow up in a technology-driven generation. Much like any small manufacturing companies, she is doing her best to adapt to an ever-changing technological landscape.
Small manufacturers are far more challenged. You must figure out how to utilize automation technology to remain competitive with your larger competitors. As you search for an integrated approach to manufacturing that is centered around computer systems, here are the top digitalization challenges you may face and how to overcome them.
Many smaller manufacturers, especially those of you that have not made a big investment into digitalization, often lack a cybersecurity plan for your facilities. This puts you at special risk for cyber-attacks, making employee data, customer records, banking, and financial data especially vulnerable. To offset this, you should begin by identifying the most important information assets and your level of vulnerability, and map exactly how this information currently flows through the organization. Additionally, map how information will flow through your organization with the implementation of any proposed technology.
Creating a smarter, more efficient manufacturing floor requires (surprise, surprise) capital. The most successful implementors of this technology are those that create a plan that determines the needs of the factory, and the desired return on investment. This will make it more difficult to overspend or invest in a reactionary manner. Cybersecurity is an investment that is often greatly overlooked. By thoroughly mapping out the needs of your factory, you can better ensure that you are getting the most bang for your buck.
When I began working at RTA, I experienced perhaps the biggest learning curve of my life. I had an academic background in marketing and knew nothing of industrial automation technology (one could make the case that I still don’t). Manufacturers that are new to digitalization can expect a sharp learning curve. Many manufacturers will seek outside guidance through a consultant to help accelerate the learning process and gain a greater ROI. A consultant is a great way to gain immediate implementation and guidance. However, it takes time to fully grasp all the new technology you will be implementing. I recommend taking advantage of some free online resources to help fill the gaps in your knowledge.
Humans are funky and full of flaws. With that, we are reluctant to change our habits and routines. This extends from our homes all the way to our careers. If you’re a plant manager, you can expect those that work underneath you to make a few errors when it comes to your new technology. They aren’t bad employees. It is simply par for the course. Another investment you’ll have to make is in a solid training program. The goal of the program should be to introduce your employees to new procedures, resource planning, and machine operations. Training in certain areas should not be imposed unless necessary. Though human error is one of your greatest weaknesses, it is also one of your biggest strengths. Employees should have a little bit of wiggle room to enable continuous discovery. This will both help them feel empowered instead of suffocated and allow them to find flaws in current processes and ways to improve them. After all, technology was made to support humans.
If you gain one piece of knowledge from this blog post, I hope it’s this: plan everything. Plan your security, plan your budget, plan your training. And for goodness sake, plan for a little bit of human error. The next time my grandmother asks me for computer help, I’ll ask her if she properly planned for all her numerous technical problems. I know she hasn’t, but hey, that’s what I am here for. At least I get cookies out of it.