Smart Manufacturing Is About Change Management

It’s not the software, and it’s not the robots. If you want to gain value from smart manufacturing, change management is key.

Rob Spiegel

May 18, 2024

3 Min Read
smart manufacturing and change management
NatalyaBurova for iStock / Getty Images Plus via Getty Images

At a Glance

  • Smart manufacturing involves the integration of technologies to improve efficiency.
  • Smart manufacturing improvements mean changing the company’s culture.
  • Changing an organization in order to foster improvement requires specific steps.

How does a company get the most from smart manufacturing tools? Simple. Deploy the right technology. Easy to say, but difficult to accomplish, according to one expert. “Wearing a Fitbit doesn't cause you to lose weight on its own. You still have to do the hard work of getting more exercise and improving your diet,” Tim Stuart, president at Visual Decisions – a company that helps manufacturers improve their production – told Design News. “The same thing is true with implementing smart manufacturing solutions.”

Stuart will present the session, Maximizing Value Realization from Smart Manufacturing, at IME South In Charlotte, N.C. on Tuesday, June 4 at 3:00 PM. IME South features six different co-located shows: Design & Manufacturing South, ATX South, MD&M South, SouthPack, Plastic South, and Powder/Bulk Solids South.

Adding Smart Tools to Manufacturing

The key aspects of smart manufacturing are easy to spell out:

Connectivity:

Interconnected devices, machines, and systems offer seamless data exchange and communication, fostering real-time monitoring and control. Integration of IoT devices helps to create a comprehensive ecosystem, enhancing visibility and decision-making.

Data Analytics:

Advanced analytics and machine learning algorithms analyze vast data generated by sensors and machinery. From this analysis, manufacturers gain actionable insights. Predictive maintenance algorithms identify potential equipment failures before they occur, thus minimizing downtime and optimizing throughout.

Automation:

Robotics and autonomous systems streamline repetitive tasks, augmenting human labor and improving productivity. Collaborative robots work alongside human operators, enhancing flexibility and safety in manufacturing environments.

Sounds great, right. But again, not so simple.

Changing the Culture of Production

Smart manufacturing involves the integration of technologies to improve efficiency, reduce downtime and expand throughput. Simply put, you leverage the power of digitalization and automation to reshape traditional production. According to Stuart, in order to bring about smart manufacturing improvements, you have to change the company’s culture. “The first piece of smart manufacturing is changing the culture so you can implement digital lean manufacturing processes,” said Stuart.

He points to a misperception about adding smart technology. “A lot of time and smart tech goes into a technology project,” said Stuart. “You put in the technology and that will make things better. But manufacturers often don’t see change management as part of the project.”

The Steps to Changing the Culture

Changing an organization in order to foster improvement requires specific steps. “Manufacturers want to change the culture and become more digital driven. But what are the discrete steps?” There’s not a playbook for that,” said Stuart. “You can’t just Google and find three steps you need to take. The things that need to be done are not well known.”

Stuart believes that answer resides in adopting effective change management strategies. “There are some clear basics to changing a company’s culture. You can pick up a book on change management by John Kotter,” said Stuart. “Kotter explains the different steps: vision, having the end in mind, and communicating the vision to the different stakeholders so they feel ownership over the project.”

Can Vendors Help?

We asked Stuart whether change management is part of the toolkit vendors bring to their manufacturing customers. “Select vendors can help, yes. But for the most part, no,” said Stuart. “For most vendors, it’s a fair perception that when their project ends, when they have their software up and running, they are done.”

The challenge for manufacturers is to understand that they’re facing when they turn to smart manufacturing tools. “Smart manufacturing isn’t as much robots as it is software,” said Stuart. “Vendors look at these projects as a commissioning exercise. The user signs off that the software runs correctly. That’s it.”

Stuart believes that the subscription model should hold vendors accountable that their products actually improve their customers’ operations. He notes that doesn’t always happen. “A lot of these software companies are working on a subscription model,” said Stuart. “If you want your customer to review, you need to focus on having software deliver value. If the company is getting actual value, they will renew. Yet I don’t see that is prevalent within the industry.”

About the Author(s)

Rob Spiegel

Rob Spiegel serves as a senior editor for Design News. He started with Design News in 2002 as a freelancer and hired on full-time in 2011. He covers automation, manufacturing, 3D printing, robotics, AI, and more.

Prior to Design News, he worked as a senior editor for Electronic News and Ecommerce Business. He has contributed to a wide range of industrial technology publications, including Automation World, Supply Chain Management Review, and Logistics Management. He is the author of six books.

Before covering technology, Rob spent 10 years as publisher and owner of Chile Pepper Magazine, a national consumer food publication.

As well as writing for Design News, Rob also participates in IME shows, webinars, and ebooks.

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