In our report Informed Manufacturing: The Next Industrial Revolution, we outlined the concepts and provided examples of “informed manufacturing.” By our definition, informed manufacturing is an envisioned state of operations in which all relevant and synthesized information is made available when, where and in the form in which it is needed across the manufacturing supply chain, to all stakeholders (people, process, products and infrastructure).
As a follow-up, we conducted primary research to explore these themes in greater detail, and gain deeper insight into how different companies view informed manufacturing.
Nearly all study respondents said they planned to adopt some form of informed manufacturing, with over 60% still at the information-gathering stage. Manufacturers are not limiting their scope to the shop floor or even internal processes; many have broken boundaries by focusing externally on areas such as sales and service, based on their strategic direction and priorities.
At the same time, while respondents acknowledged the criticality of informed manufacturing over time, they are proceeding cautiously, often impeded by return on investment (ROI) considerations, concerns about data security and a lack of comprehensive regulations in areas such as data transparency.
To help overcome these concerns, manufacturers should look at developing a distinct information management strategy and business plan for long-term capability-building, backed by a separate budget and performance measures.
First Step: Product Information Management
Regardless of the current level of adoption, respondents share a unanimous focus on making products more informed. For this reason, we believe a successful transition to informed manufacturing begins with product information management, as it can lead to better decision-making and drive business performance. Product information typically serves to answer any or all of the following questions:
What is the product?
Addressed by capturing basic product data, such as product code, name, material, size, etc. Information is generally captured through physical tags or barcoding.
Where is the product?
Pertains to tracking and tracing of the product, to assess how far it has progressed in the manufacturing process. Information is typically captured using sensors or RFID tags.
How is the product performing?
Includes product performance or condition-monitoring. Information is generally captured through embedded sensors.
Most respondents noted that while they capture and use product data in one form or another, they struggle to put this data to effective use. A more sophisticated approach would be to integrate product and process data, and automate process adjustments or shutdowns based on information provided by the product.
Focus on Informed People by Increasing Knowledge-Sharing, Collaboration
Informed people are another key component. Social media and knowledge management systems are important enablers for this. One of the key objectives of knowledge management is to enable companies to quickly identify expertise within the organization by mapping specific skills and expertise within the enterprise and identifying resources for specific needs. In competitive corporate cultures, employees can be reluctant to share specific knowledge with unknown peers or admit ignorance on any topic, and are more comfortable interacting with people they know personally.
Therefore, investments in knowledge management solutions must be supported by change management initiatives and training to enable employees to comfortably transition from traditional approaches like phone and e-mail contact, to other platforms that involve channels such as social media.
The Road to Informed Manufacturing
Based on our primary research and analysis of the evolution of informed manufacturing, we have defined a maturity framework to help guide companies in their transition.
Our framework defines three key pillars: product, process and people. The fourth pillar, infrastructure, while having strong potential to contribute to informed manufacturing, is not expected to gain significance for at least three to five years, or until a level of maturity is achieved in the other three pillars.
For each pillar, we have defined five levels of maturity — from a basic stage (unawareness of informed manufacturing), to excellence, i.e., a fully mature, informed stage. See Figure 1 for details.
As companies implement an informed manufacturing solution, the framework can serve as a checkpoint at every stage to confirm whether the required level of maturity has been reached, before deciding on further investments along the defined roadmap.
An important insight revealed by our research is that the informed manufacturing journey is unlikely to progress sequentially. However, companies will need to address all three streams – people, process and product – sooner or later; achieving excellence in one would not be possible by ignoring the other two. As a uniformly high level of capability is achieved across pillars, manufacturers can integrate the infrastructure pillar to achieve seamlessly integrated informed manufacturing.
For businesses wishing to progress with informed manufacturing, we recommend the following:
Develop a specific strategy and plan. Managing the dual priorities of ongoing business (i.e., problem-solving, immediate/short-term focus) and new innovations (investments for the longer term) requires a well-developed strategy and roadmap.
Seek external support as required. A qualified third-party can provide invaluable assistance, not only in developing a strategy and roadmap for informed manufacturing, but also in areas such as information-gathering and sharing, and in implementing specific informed manufacturing initiatives.
Assess current capabilities and priorities and decide on initial focal points. Establish basic capabilities in process standardization, data integrity and visibility before expanding further. Fully leverage established technologies, such as barcodes, RFID and sensors, to reduce risk.
Encourage employees to reach out and collaborate internally and externally. Invest in solutions to tightly communicate and facilitate the transition through training and change management initiatives.
Use an informed manufacturing maturity framework. Such a framework can act as a guideline for charting out your individual roadmap.