How to Use Digital Transformation and Evolution In Your Manufacturing Company

A few weeks ago, I had the privilege of serving on a panel — Digital Transformation and Plastics Manufacturing — at the Plastics Executive Conference in Naples, Florida. The panel was moderated by my good friend, Nanette Gregory, senior partner at NSG Consulting, and I was joined by Rajiv Menon, founder of Informulate; Gary Stein, CTO of Alpha Proto, and Willem Sundblad, founder and CEO of Oden Technologies.

Each of us had a chance to talk about our own company and the work we were doing, and to share what we saw as the future of digital transformation in plastics manufacturing.

Afterward, we reached the question-and-answer portion of the panel, where we got to answer questions from different audience members.

How do you think companies can use digital transformation?

The panel discussing digital transformation at the Plastics News Executive Forum in Naples, FL, March 2019Rajiv said he sees digital transformation as a way for business leaders to take what has been traditionally analog information and use it to transform their business from any angle, whether it’s client relationships, employee relationships, or delivering new products and services they don’t already have.

He described a friend at a large manufacturer who uses monitors to measure when machines were getting ready to break. In the past, they had called for maintenance to fix a problem before things were actually broken (taking the machine out of circulation too soon), or after it was too late and the thing was already broken.

Their monitors changed all of that, and turned their maintenance into a subscription model that alerted maintenance staff to problems right before they happened, not weeks before, not immediately afterward.

I (David) said that digital transformation is also a state of mind, not just a matter of adding monitors and new equipment. In my company’s case, it was a matter of the pain making us passionate about a solution. We had a clear vision of what we wanted to see at the other end, so the organization committed to fixing the problem. The question for us was how could we get there?

That’s where artificial intelligence really became the method to achieve the objective. However, that does take capital, and it reminds us that you should never underserve your assets. If you do, it minimizes your ability to cause that change, so if you can keep serving your assets adequately, then you’ll be moving in that direction on a consistent basis.

Willem added that it’s important to start with the pain initially. There will be some people in the organization who believe in your changes, and some who don’t. If you can identify who’s got the biggest pain, you can then analyze the problem, and begin to predict the ROI within a quarter or two.

He said the best way to effect digital transformation is to think big, start small, scale fast. If you start small, you can prove your success and then learn how to scale it.

Can you work with someone in semi-pain and not real pain?

Willem said that if there is no pain in a company, or they just don’t have a desire to grow, he won’t be able to work with them. He wants customers to have an ROI year after year, and if there’s not a pain point, there’s probably not going to be an improvement. There has to be something they want to do — decrease the scrap rate, increase productivity, reduce downtime — in order to make the improvement happen.

Next, they also want to make sure the companies have the skill and will to actually do go through with the change. The system needs to be designed to have low friction for the existing teams, and so it has to be easily adoptable.

Gary reinforced this idea, adding that there has to be pain for the person who writes the checks in order to make that happen. Otherwise, they’ll “keep telling them to use more baling wire to hold it all together and to buy more parts from eBay.

“You keep going until that Windows 3.1 machine will no longer support the system. There is a cost, but it’s going to save you in the end,” said Gary.

How do you find “up-skillable” people in your organization or those willing to learn something new?

I answered this final question before we ran out of time (and I’ll probably touch on it more in the future):

Basically, a lot of the talent that you find can (and should) often come from your trusted vendor partners. In a small business, you don’t necessarily have the people in your building who can just tinker with things, they have to deliver practical things.

But the vendors you work with become partners in your business, whether they provide equipment, software, or processes. And if they’re trusted and trustworthy, they’re the ones who transfer skills to your existing people and upgrade them.

They’re the ones teaching your people how to do the things you need, and chances are, some of them are willing to make the move to your organization. While you can train your people within your organization, which I always recommend, it’s also a good idea to bring in some outside professionals who can show the rest of your staff how it all works.

I’ve been a manufacturing executive, as well as a sales and marketing professional, for a few decades. Now I help companies turn around their own business. If you would like more information, please visit my website and connect with me on Twitter, Facebook, or LinkedIn.

Author: David Marshall
I’ve been a manufacturing executive, as well as a sales and marketing professional, for a few decades. Now I help companies turn around their own business. If you would like more information, please visit my website and connect with me on Twitter or LinkedIn.