Digital transformation is at the forefront of strategic planning for CXOs in industrial enterprises, particularly in manufacturing where the stakes are increasing. Challenges around work shortage, risk and cost pressure, and digital disruption from fierce startups are swaying the competitive landscape. The implementation of digital transformation technologies is pushing back against these industry forces and revealing pivotal value drivers for enterprises.
The development of this increasingly digital ecosystem isn’t about investing in innovative technologies for the sake of it, but to achieve business outcomes crucial to success. This could include engineering excellence, manufacturing efficiency, and product and service innovation, among others. Digital transformation drives value by linking an organization’s products, processes, and people.
Digital transformation for product innovation requires expanding past the traditional manufacturing process and understanding the product across the supply chain, including insights from its deployed environment.
At the design stage, organizations are benefiting from technologies collecting real-world product usage data through digital twins. This requires a mix of fundamental and emerging technologies to capture the product’s past, current, and future state. Obtaining its ‘digital definition’ is capable through CAD and PLM applications and other product insights. Connecting, managing, and analyzing a product’s operational status with IIoT platforms and increasingly predicting its outcomes with powerful simulation modules is ushering in the next-generation of digital twins.
The widespread adoption of digital twin technologies is opening new use cases and related success stories centered around product innovation. Whirlpool is using digital twins to improve product development and service procedures to test low-fidelity prototypes while enabling cross-function collaboration through data sharing across the organization. There are also other emerging artificial intelligence and simulation concepts touching future product design functions like generative design.
Making data more homogeneous across enterprises, departments, and roles is a key outcome of digital transformation, as was the case with Whirlpool. This high-level organizational goal comes in the form of a digital thread; an emerging technological framework for connecting disparate data flows to create a complete understanding across the value chain.
For an example, if a manufacturer is looking to create differentiated products they might implement a product-as-a-service business model. This requires scaling and consistently transferring data across applications and roles.
Specifically, a smart connected product can create maintenance services with IoT-enablement but expanding the scope to a digital thread could encompass integrating other information relevant to a field service professional. This could be the product’s bill of materials, CAD files, customer records, work instructions and service processes, all intertwined with IoT, and accessible via augmented reality.
Creating this digital transformation capability requires a collection of technologies to underpin a digital thread that stitches together silos and promotes operational effectiveness.
People and the tools that empower them to be more productive is the foundation of digital transformation. For technologies to actually be adopted in organizations they need an interface that their employees can access or will actually use. Employees in industrial enterprises typically don’t operate out of a traditional office space; their workstation may include the factory floor or field visits.
Digital transformation is only successful in these industrial organizations if it scales down to the worker’s job environment. For these estimated 2.8 billion ‘front-line workers’ new technologies are enabling them to interact with their historically black-boxed environment. IIoT provides them with necessary insights by connecting, managing, and analyzing machines, assembly lines, and other assets through various HMIs.
The emerging HMI most promising to the front-line worker -- augmented reality --places digital information into context. Bringing this worker into the digital ecosystem with AR is made possible through advanced computer vision capabilities for recognizing and tracking objects and spaces, capturing the work environment, and enabling authored experiences, such as virtual work instructions, among many others.
CXOs contemplating digital transformation initiatives can think of it like a digital thread – implementing technologies must be purposeful, succinct, and seamlessly weave across products, processes, and people. Enterprises not considering all three of these critical areas in coordination will be increasingly susceptible to unsurpassable barriers like information silos.
Multiple technologies are needed to fulfill an enterprise-wide digital transformation strategy; technology providers renowned for strong product portfolios and open partnership ecosystems should be major considerations.
David Immerman is as a Consulting Analyst for the TMT Consulting team based in Boston, MA. Prior to S&P Market Intelligence, David ran competitive intelligence for a supply chain risk management software startup and provided thought leadership and market research for an industrial software provider. Previously, David was an industry analyst in 451 Research’s Internet of Things channel primarily covering the smart transportation and automotive technology markets.