Manufacturing 4.0 academy – Blog Post #1: Tips for getting started with “digitization”

by | Jan 25, 2023 | Blog, Industry Article, News

Written by Paul Hogendoorn, MEE Cluster Digital Transformation Consultant

The first thing to understand about “digitization” and information technology is they are not silver bullet solutions that can be applied to correct process problems, be they manufacturing, administration or engineering issues. A manufacturing company with sound fundamental manufacturing processes can benefit greatly by digitizing their information collection, storage and sharing systems, and a manufacturing company in need of process improvements, refinements, or a complete overhaul, can benefit greatly from the insights that that empirical, real-time data can reveal. But it starts with having good processes first, then digitizing them.

Small manufacturing companies know their business and they know how to get things done. Over my 40-year career, working with 100’s of manufacturers (and being one myself), these two points are self-evident and continuously made abundantly clear. If they didn’t know their business, or if they weren’t able to get things done (i.e., get product out the door on time at least most of the time), they wouldn’t still be in business. But what they don’t know nearly as well, and what they’re usually entirely willing to admit, is new digital technology that is not directly related to their actual manufacturing process. And that’s where organizations like the MEE Cluster can help.

For most small manufacturing companies, its not nearly as daunting a task as it seems. The first step is to fill out a questionnaire that gives you (and the MEE Cluster) an idea of the “what and why’s” – what you are trying to accomplish, and why; it has to be for more than just “digitize our processes”, because digitization should be a means to a greater end and not an end itself. Contact Paul to learn more and to complete the survey. Completing the survey should only take 15 minutes.

After gaining a clearer picture of the “what and why’s”, closer attention can be paid to the “how, when, where – and most importantly, who” and a productive journey can begin in earnest. Often, the first technology related step involves deploying a simple data collection system that gives you real time feedback that either affirms your intuitive understanding of what’s going right or wrong in your business or shines a bright light on areas that need improvement. It becomes an empirical baseline that shouldn’t be interpreted as good or bad, but as “this is where we are at”. The goal of the first steps is to know where you are today so that you can develop effective plans to be where you want to be tomorrow. Digitization is tool that helps you get there – it doesn’t get you there by itself, no matter how expensive or advanced the technology itself may be.  As a matter of fact, spending too much time or money without a plan (determining the what and why, then the where, how, when and who), and having the empirical means to measure results, can often hinder a small manufacturing company more than it helps. Its hard to know if you are going forwards or backwards if you don’t know exactly where you started from, and what your business goals are.

Stay tuned for Blog post #2 in this series on how to get started quickly and cost effectively, and most importantly, getting your people engaged!