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Can digitization solve all problems in manufacturing?

Before vs after digitization - execution is faster but defects are also seen faster

The manufacturing landscape continues to evolve globally, with disruptions due to COVID-19, Russia-Ukraine conflict, chips shortage, etc. being played out in the recent few years. Lately, a narrative has built up that puts digitization at the center of all transformation and modernization initiatives across industries. The vision is that digitization of systems and processes enables best-in-class efficiency, increased profitability, agile operations and so on. Digitization does hold incredible potential to achieve these business objectives. However, the benefits involved and business value generated is a function of several more intrinsic and extrinsic factors that need to be kept in mind. Careful consideration is needed of all such factors in the digitization roadmap for the particular use case being considered by the manufacturer. There are several problems that manufacturers encounter, some of which have been discussed here. Digitization cannot magically solve all the problems that a manufacturer faces.

Can digitization solve all problems in manufacturing?

Physical constraints:

If implemented optimally, digitization can help improve the productivity and output from a manufacturer. However, it cannot overcome physical constraints such as inadequate capacity, sub-optimal plant layout, poorly maintained equipment, antiquated technology, etc. For instance, no amount of digital technology adoption can increase the plant's throughput if the capacity has already been fully utilized. In a similar way, no digitization effort can help overcome bad roads which lead to higher logistics costs for a manufacturer.

Human factors:

Human decision making cannot be replaced completely using technology, due to the complexity and variation of real-world operations. Even with new technologies such as Generative AI, decision making cannot be fully outsourced to computers. That being said, modern decision support systems can greatly enhance and speed up decision making for managers. Digitization can improve the quality of decisions by managers, but the managers need to be trained so that they are able to use these systems optimally to make the best decisions.

Complex challenges:

The manufacturing industry faces a wide range of multi-tiered challenges which, at times, are interrelated with each other. Separating out the cause and effect is challenging and confusing. Applying digital solutions to treat the symptoms will not resolve the root cause, and the issue may still linger in a different form in the system. A holistic approach is needed to identify, prioritize and solve complex challenges that manufacturers face. The overall strategy of the organization needs to take this into account. For example, supply chain problems, quality issues, etc. cannot be solved just by digital solutions; a more comprehensive deep dive is needed to understand the root cause of these problems and resolve them.

Technology related concerns:

There might be data security and privacy related concerns when new technologies are being implemented. To some extent, the fears can be assuaged by good data governance and privacy policies. However, any data breaches or leaks can undermine confidence in the system. Issues with integration of various applications and data together is also not straightforward. Lastly, the integrity of digital data needs to be ensured with multi-level checks, so that the right data is recorded for further processing.

These are some of the issues due to which digitization cannot solve all problems that manufacturers face. Digitization needs to be thought of as a part of the overall transformation strategy for a manufacturer, and not the entire strategy itself. Digitization is not a "one size fits all" solution to solving all problems in manufacturing - rather, it is a set of tools and strategies which can help achieve intended functional and business objectives. As digital solutions become popular and managers consider applying them to their factories, a tempered look is needed to ensure realistic expectations are set for such initiatives. Digitization can undoubtedly be a powerful tool, but it's only one piece of the puzzle. By acknowledging the multifaceted nature of manufacturing challenges and approaching them with a comprehensive strategy, managers can make meaningful strides towards achieving sustainable solutions which can resolve underlying issues that their factories face.

A comprehensive "platform" approach can be useful when implementing digital solutions. Some of the advantages of this approach are scalability (to resolve new use cases), reduction of data silos (between different teams), single source of truth for the organization, etc. Inovec offers the WorkFlow platform, which enables workflow digitization, process improvements as well as reporting and analytics. Reach out to us to know more and understand how WorkFlow can benefit your operations!



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