When Cultures Clash in the Manufacturing Arena
by George Jewell, on Feb 14, 2019 4:45:03 PM
Change is rarely easy. Big changes can be even more challenging and disruptive.
That is the reality facing the manufacturing sector today, as a wave of innovative new technology is breaking on the shores of an industry that has historically been slow to embrace change.
When Cultures Clash in the Manufacturing Arena
Historically, the factory floor was a place of grit, grime and gears—a place where men and women labored to cut, craft and create. The word industrial has become synonymous with a kind of raw, uncomplicated and unsophisticated aesthetic. Machinery and ductwork, not microchips and fiber optic cables.
Over the years, of course, factories and production facilities have become steadily more technologically sophisticated and advanced. Muscle and metal have gradually given way to automation and sophistication. Factories have become cleaner, safer and more efficient. New tools allow for increasingly precise and perfected parts and processes. The stereotype of the factory floor as a place of industry first and technology second remains strong, however. And while that stereotype isn’t necessarily fair, or even accurate, it’s not entirely unearned, either. Because far too many manufacturers today are still relying partially or entirely on legacy systems, aging infrastructure and outdated technology.
There are plenty of very logical, practical and tangible reasons why upgrading systems and technology in a factory or production environment can be difficult. The cost and logistics associated with upgrading can be formidable, and the disruption alone can be expensive and understandably unappealing.
But beyond the financial and logistical considerations, however, there is a deeper and arguably thornier challenge facing manufacturers and manufacturing technology providers: changing the industry culture. Decades and even generations of doing things a certain way inevitably and understandably makes shifting gears (no pun intended) and moving out of your comfort zone more of a hurdle.
Today, at a time when industry leaders are introducing a new generation of innovative and inspired digital solutions for smart manufacturing, the critical question becomes how. How, in a space where an industrial heritage has created (in many cases) a reluctance to embrace new technology, how do you change that culture after decades of the same traditional mindset? How do you break through that cultural inertia and help manufacturers recognize the extraordinary potential of new technology solutions?
Here are a few ways to do just that:
Make it easy
Streamline and simplify. The goal should be to make things easier for everyone, from line operators on up to plant and process manager, control engineers, IT personnel, and C-Suite execs. The good news is that the best process control technology solutions do just that. Some come with a customizable interface and are designed to deliver work instructions and a powerful tech toolkit that makes the job easier, not more complex—all without elaborate, costly or time-consuming training protocols. Leading solutions have intuitive and customizable online interfaces that can be accessed at a workstation–or from virtually any web-capable device anywhere in the world.
“Making it easy” starts from day one, with an implementation process that minimizes or eliminates downtime and won’t break the bank. If possible, prioritize solutions with easy set-up and plug-and-play functionality that allow you to hit the ground running. Some software solutions have a single point of installation and can be hosted locally or in the cloud, incurring minimal network burden. In a best-case-scenario, a fully-functioning environment that can simply be dropped into a server and activated, essentially delivering an all-in-one solution that—in a single stroke—replaces the work currently done by HMIs, PLCs, SCADA software and MES systems.
Make the value proposition clear
Demonstrate the gains. Show that the tech is proven and works. You can chip away at some of that inherent mistrust of technology by showing that a system is robust and reliable. Today’s leading solutions have been developed and refined in some of the most demanding manufacturing environments in the world, and have proven their ability to streamline processes, introduce new efficiencies, reduce costs, increase quality and enhance profitability. If at all possible, provide hard data and clear results that shows just how transformative and profitable your manufacturing tech solution can be.
Kitting and parts management software, along with no-faults-forward functionality and powerful traceability and tracking tech makes it possible to essentially error-proof the assembly process and provide an extraordinary degree of quality control and compliance verification. Transparency and visibility may include real-time production reports and KPI, facilitating real-time monitoring and data-driven decision-making.
Some tech solutions are available as a SaaS subscription model—priced on station count and features instead of the number of users. This kind of practical approach makes cutting-edge digital manufacturing solutions more affordable and accessible, even for manufacturers without an extensive IT infrastructure already in place. Process control platforms that are scalable, modular and mobile can give clients the choice of whether to start small and scale up or opt for a wholesale digital transformation. The most versatile platforms with a high degree of connectivity are fully compatible with a wide range of systems and smart tools—from fasteners and gauges, to cameras, sensors, and pick-to-light and augmented reality platforms.
Appeal to youth
Part of the structural challenge for factory tech integration is that decision-makers are often from an older demographic. They’ve had great success to get to where they are, and it isn’t always easy to convince them to pivot in a new direction. While you will need to get those experienced executives on board, it’s also essential to appeal to the younger generation. They have grown up with powerful and reliable technology as a force for productivity and prosperity. They tend to not only be quick and enthusiastic adopters of innovative new tech, but inherently recognize the potential value and exciting new opportunities that well-designed holistic technology can bring.