Business dynamics have changed due to new technologies, innovation and disruption. For example, mobile phones began as a communication tool and are now like a computer in the pocket. This was only the beginning. The ripple effect was felt in markets and infrastructure as the impact was visible outside the system; for example, Uber, FB, Twitter, etc. And that is the real transformation.
In the industrial space, there are a host of disruptive technologies changing the business landscape; Cloud, IoT, 3D, Machine Learning, Augmented Reality, etc. The focus, now, is on improving Asset Performance Management (APM) and Operational Performance Management (OPM). There is a lot of activity on all fronts, but we don’t know what the game changer is. Perhaps it’s not just one thing; it could be multiple changes happening simultaneously. And we need to wait and watch what impact all these technologies will have on the industry. This is an interesting inflection point where people and processes need to change and adapt because the future is already here. Everything is connected. For instance, to design a smart connected product one has to think about the data input and output, who will be given access to the data, the digital twin, etc.
Digital transformation – a matter of ‘when’
A successful digital transformation program steps an organisation through a process that transforms its current state to a desired future state. For production operations, this often involves moving from a local, siloed procedural operating model to a more comprehensive model that is integrated to the enterprise, responsive to customers and market changes and optimised in the context of overall business performance. More than ever, digital transformation is mission critical for business health and viability, both, in the short-term and long-term. Digitally transformed organisations will be able to transition to and thrive in digital economies, making digital transformation a matter not of ‘if,’ but ‘when’.
A digital strategy in place
In practice, this often means thinking about production operations in a new way. It means stepping away from the practices and models that have enabled an organisation to operate as well as it does today, but may need to change to achieve tomorrow’s goals. Business transformation requires changes at all levels from the information systems to the workforce. So, to evolve into an organisation that thrives on innovation, there must be a digital strategy in place. The six dimensions must converge for operational efficiency – smart business, smart services, smart products, smart operation & maintenance, smart design & construct and smart supply chain; and these have to be seamlessly integrated with industrial IoT.
The 21st century software
Software is eating the world and powering the industrial IoT revolution. IT systems have evolved and are transitioning to the new software to create a digitally integrated enterprise. Companies are now moving to modern software platforms, which means that cloud native micro-service-based apps are coming to the plant (this is already visible in the IT systems). The development process is moving to a DevOp model, the architecture is moving to micro services, the deployment model is moving from physical to virtual and now to containers; and the infrastructure that all this runs on is moving from datacentres at the plant to private clouds. Soon, industrial companies are going to move to demanding 21st century software. So, instead of having an MES, historian or quality management system, there will be a platform and a collection of micro service apps. In the last century, for efficient plant operations, it made sense to utilise a big, expensive, closed, one-size-fits-all, periodically updated production application, as well as a big, expensive, closed, one-size-fits-all, periodically updated maintenance application, and probably several others.
Today, with the proliferation of potentially connected devices, machines, systems and machine learning-driven optimisation strategies, it is difficult to see how any large application provider can possibly incorporate all the needed solutions into their monolithic applications, even by extensively interfacing with other applications to handle all interactions. But with a 21st century approach to the problem, there’s a way forward. Though we are all comfortable with the legacy software model, there are significant drawbacks that we don’t think about anymore:
Change is coming. The new approach is already in common use in IT shops and elsewhere.
Plant floor software suppliers are currently in the process of moving to the new approach
Now is the time to start
Connected and integrated environments
Leading industrial companies are actively engaged in ransformation programs that will reshape their production operations to be more integrated, responsive and optimised to meet business and customer needs. Realising these innovations requires an understanding of the emerging 21st century operations ecosystem. Connected environments surface heretofore unavailable machine data, enabling new business models. New systems may monitor the assets and new actors may interact with the assets in new ways. Industrial plant operations, typically siloed and fairly isolated today, will be reshaped as the core of a 21st century industrial production operations ecosystem. Field operations, such as, mining or agriculture, are experiencing a similar evolution. In other cases, such as, automotive, where the assets operate in public spaces and both the assets and ecosystems are evolving quickly, other factors come into play.
In 21st century production operations, work is accomplished with a combination of internal and external actors (asset manufacturers, third-party machine monitoring services, spare parts suppliers, etc). This puts new demands on data requirements and cybersecurity strategies. New types of data are being generated (wearables, vision systems, machine health sensors, etc.) and newly available digital twins and machine learning systems can work at various levels to optimise the overall system in sync with the needs of customers and business operations.
Offering smart, connected products
The availability of connected machines is potentially disruptive to these established production and maintenance scenarios. Digitalisation involves connectivity to much more than the production machines and systems. Wearables, Augmented Reality helmets or glasses, mobile devices, smart carriers, smart containers, smart components, smart products, autonomous machines, video, third-party services, social applications, Additive Manufacturing, voice control, remote sensing and more are now an active part of the real-time, data-rich environment in the plant. By offering smart, connected products, manufacturers can position themselves to improve their customers’ experience with their products. Digitalisation enables manufacturers to improve the performance of their service operations through remote connectivity and enables predictive maintenance, continuous uptime, rapid service response and the opportunity to offer incremental, revenue-producing products and services.
Here is ARC’s three-step planning process for companies that are planning digital transformations:
Assess the organisational maturity & capacity for change
Determine where to start applying technologies. This provides a meaningful way to develop a framework to consider the role of technology & pilots in terms of how to select, deploy and scale them within a strategic framework.
Determine how to execute based on one’s current readiness to align the framework to tactics
Future of digital transformation of the industry
The next several years will bring about the digital transformation of manufacturing industries. This will touch nearly every aspect of business as existing systems, jobs and business processes are instrumented, redefined and optimised with Artificial Intelligence. This transformation will be widespread and far reaching. Information Technology (IT), Operational Technology (OT), Engineering Technology (ET), supply chain, asset management, services and customer-facing systems will all be impacted. Discrete manufacturing, process industries, utilities, energy, infrastructure and more are already beginning the transformation. That digitalisation is an imperative to succeed in a competitive world is a given, but the transition must be well strategised and charted. Some companies already have a strategy for digital transformation along with a realisable roadmap, but it’s not going to be a smooth ride. This journey is likely to be punctuated with setbacks and unexpected barriers, so we must adopt industry best practices and learn from others’ experiences. We have to address challenges and adapt to new requirements with dexterity at every step.