Accelerating the digitalisation of your manufacturing operations

23 March, 2021

Ireland is a global leader in high value manufacturing. We have a workforce and infrastructure ready to support the digitalisation of business operations. But progress toward that goal across the country's key industries has been mixed. While some businesses have started their transformation journey, Irish manufacturing is still to completely embrace digitalisation.

Photo of a man using a VR headset in a bright, open office.

The global pandemic has demonstrated that digitalisation is key to securing and maintaining competitive advantage. Digitally-enabled operations have fared better in the face of supply shocks, unpredictable and fluctuating demand, and the need to ensure the welfare of a workforce directly impacted by COVID-19. As a result of this, we are seeing a surge to connect digitally and transform manufacturing operations.

An illustrative graphic of a man thinking about how to start or accelerate his digital transformation.

However, identifying where to start can be very challenging. Despite the ever growing list of new technologies and buzzwords such as augmented reality, predictive maintenance and blockchain (all of which may be considered potential solutions for a variety of operational challenges) the way forward is often difficult to understand, and may feel nearly impossible to achieve. That's why we have developed a four-step approach towards development of a smart manufacturing road map.

1. Develop a next-level manufacturing vision

  • Define an individual smart manufacturing vision
  • Select focus topics based on their optimisation potential and their strategical relevance

2. Define solutions and use cases with impact

  • Define and evaluate use cases and requirements to select smart solutions enabling the defined vision

3. Define and implement enabling technologies

  • Analyse required information in order to identify needed technologies and workflows
  • Highlight gaps between status quo and future state

4. Maximise the number of use cases and advance vision

  • Change of perspective: how can we use the newly gained information and capabilities to generate additional business or use cases?

Road map definition

The actions to take now

Develop a next-level manufacturing vision

In order to start or accelerate your digital transformation, you need to first define a clear vision, aligned to your company's strategic focus. Imagine yourself inspecting your manufacturing processes, thinking to yourself: Why do we still rely so much on paper-based processes? Your vision should reflect your ideal target state, such as a paperless factory, a flexible production process, or a no-touch process, as well as necessary optimisations to achieve your strategic agenda. At this stage, your vision is not yet connected to detailed tools or applications but provides direction to design optimal solutions and enable technologies. This is your first step on the road to becoming a digital champion.

Define solutions and use cases with impact

With a clear vision in mind, the defined long-term targets must be enhanced with carefully selected smart solutions that address relevant problems. To ensure they support your vision as effectively as possible, you need to define use cases or application areas along your production processes to facilitate the determination of key requirements and functions. For example, the use of automated material replenishment and smart tracking solutions in bottleneck processes can play a crucial role in achieving your goal of flexible production. Ideally, the implementation of smart solutions will promote several objectives simultaneously.

  1. Vision
    Define a clear target direction
    • Paperless factory
    • Flexible production
    • No-touch processes
    • Network performance optimisation
  2. Smart solutions
    Create uses cases supporting the vision
    • Augmented reality for maintenance
    • Automated material replenishment
    • Manufacturing execution system
    • Predictive maintenance on machines
    • Digital twin machines
    • Smart tracking of products
    • Digital boards on shop floors
  3. Technologies
    Combine technolgies to enable your vision
    • Sensors (e.g., mechanical and digital)
    • Trackers (e.g., RFID, NFC etc.)
    • Cameras including heat cameras
    • Microphones (e.g., voice recorders)
    • Protocols (e.g., machine data)
    • Observation and manual input
    • Human or machine interfaces
    • Additive manufacturing
    • Robotics including collaborative

Define and implement enabling technologies

Once you have identified your use cases and smart solutions, the next step is to define what necessary information sources and technologies you will need for the retrieval or automatic processing of data. Since smart solutions usually utilise several sources and different technologies e.g., sensors, machine connectivity, and big data analytics to support predictive maintenance, it is essential to define which technologies best meet your specific requirements or guarantee the best possible return on investment or both.

Maximise the number of use cases and advance your vision

In order to inspire your team you must collaboratively develop and validate the business case for change. The optimisation potential and strategic relevance need to be fully evaluated and should play an important role in defining your digital transformation road map. However, since the introduction of new technologies is usually quite costly, it is not unlikely that business cases, if evaluated individually, will turn out to be negative. Therefore, it is critical to identify and realise the full potential of new technologies across a number of use cases.

Each potential technology must be analysed and reviewed to evaluate additional areas of application and, with them, additional optimisation to support your business case and advance your vision further. Implementing sensors and connectivity on metal presses, for example, is usually quite costly. But if the data is used for quality assurance and production planning as well as for predictive maintenance, the benefits increase making the overall business case positive.

We are here to help you

Are you interested in the outlined approach and would like to discuss it more in detail? Are you at an early stage of your digital operations journey or currently struggling with your digital transformation? Get in touch today.

This article was originally published by Dr Hans-Jörg Kutschera, Dr. Jens Neumann and Simon Treis from Strategy& (part of the PwC network).

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Mark McKeever

Director, PwC Ireland (Republic of)

Tel: +353 86 043 9612

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