Digital transformation isn’t just about technology; it changes how business is done. Learn how to develop a strategy to implement smart systems.
A lot of people are talking about digital transformation and the smart systems and technologies that enable it. Much of the discussion centers around the technology and cost, as if it’s simply another technology purchase.
But digital transformation isn’t just about new technologies. It’s about using those technologies to change how business is done.
That means digital transformation is really about business outcomes — improving productivity, quality and efficiency while helping to reduce safety and security risks. It’s about using manufacturing flexibility to meet customer needs and delivering information and insights that improve overall performance and profitability.
At the heart of digital transformation are smart systems that provide manufacturing efficiency, safety and security, and which provide data to information systems that ultimately provide the insights that help leaders make decisions and plot the right course for the organization.
It begins with smart devices — devices and sensors that provide essential information about asset operation. Smart devices might also provide information about their own operation that, for example, tell maintenance when they’re getting dirty or otherwise compromised, so that they can be cleaned and reduce unscheduled downtime.
Smart controllers provide for logical operation of machinery or processes to optimize productivity, quality and safety. Contemporary controllers might include integrated safety that, for example, can reduce downtime by identifying more precisely what triggers a safety shutdown so that it can be addressed quickly, or use alternative measures like safe speed monitoring that can reduce the need to shut down and lock out equipment to address minor servicing issues.
Human-machine interfaces (HMIs) have moved beyond the basics. They now improve insights so operators can address issues faster.
Analytics and augmented reality (AR) are emerging areas that can transform operations and improve manufacturing flexibility. These are new ways to manage and transform data, provide context and insights supporting quality, compliance and efficiencies.
How this “stack” of smart devices, controllers, interfaces and analytics is designed and integrated to help you achieve your objectives is key. This usually requires evolution more than revolution. As systems are updated, intelligence and connectivity are added to continuously improve operations.
Even without implementing the broad connectivity sometimes associated with digital transformation, using smart systems on your plant floor will help to increase productivity and reduce risks when compared to traditional industrial control systems.
Plan the Implementation
Digital transformation isn’t simply buying technology. It’s a process of:
- Determining objectives/business goals.
- Assessing system, safety and security needs to achieve those objectives.
- Planning the transformation to achieve them.
Begin by asking several questions:
- What does digital transformation mean for your company?
- How much of a transformation do you want to make?
- What does the target state look like?
- What are the business objectives?
- How will your organization change?
- What decisions will workers make, and what information will they need to do so?
With answer to these questions, you can devise a strategy for achieving objectives:
- What is the timeline?
- What is essential to your success? What are the priorities?
- What are the key activities to success?
- What are the milestones?
Assessments also are a key part of the process, especially for safety and security. It’s critical to understand your level of acceptable risk, what risks exist and how to mitigate them. Implementing programs that increase connectivity without addressing security can place your information, intellectual property, physical assets and even workers at risk.
As you adopt and deploy new technologies, your workers will be exposed to new information and insights. Decision-making processes and even your organization may be affected and will need to adapt to take advantage of your new capabilities.
Your relationships with supply chain partners also might be affected. Your machinery may be monitored by the OEM that built it to reduce downtime, and you’ll need to address OEM access.
Smart systems that generate meaningful data to unlocking valuable insights about what’s going on in your facility are at the heart of digital transformation. Devices, controllers, HMIs, analytics, networks and more.
It can seem overwhelming and expensive, but a well-planned and executed strategy can set up your company for success.
The Journal From Rockwell Automation and Our PartnerNetwork™ is published by Putman Media, Inc.