In a recent article for the Association of Equipment Manufacturers, author Mike Schmidt states that “the fourth industrial revolution isn’t right around the corner. It’s already arrived.” This is a sentiment people in the manufacturing world are hearing everywhere—including in a recent webinar Fiix hosted along with industry analyst International Data Corporation (IDC). The webinar was led by Fiix’s Greg Dierickse, who introduced IDC’s Kevin Permenter and Fiix’s Stuart Fergusson as subject matter experts on the role of computerized maintenance management systems (CMMS) in the pursuit of organizational digital transformation.
While there were many takeaways from the webinar, one thing was clear: The time for digital transformation is now. So why is there so much pressure on manufacturers to take on emerging technologies? The answer, as webinar attendees discovered, is multifaceted.
Digital transformation ultimately drives a better customer experience
Though the idea of digital transformation and emerging technologies in maintenance isn’t new to anyone, IDC’s Senior Research Analyst Kevin Permenter kicked things off with an interesting idea: The reason it’s so important now is that “companies are starting to realize that maintenance plays a role in the ultimate user experience for the customer. In order to compete, large or small, manufacturers are going to have to invest in these advanced technologies like analytics, AI, and IoT.”
Of course, when your day-to-day job is focused on reliability, it’s all too easy to keep your sights set within the organization: Are you hitting your KPIs? Is your OEE up to snuff? But when organizations start thinking about the customer experience, it adds a new pressure. If manufacturers don’t make decisions that benefit the customer, the customer will go elsewhere.
We’ve moved past the days where good maintenance meant that nothing broke down—organizations now have the technology available to make connections they weren’t able to make before, and access to data that enables decision making that wasn’t possible before. This is causing an important shift in thinking about reliability.
This might be why manufacturing stands “way out” above other industries in worldwide IoT spending. Kevin noted that spending in manufacturing stands above other industries that rely on innovation like utilities and transportation, simply because there is pressure from customers to stay ahead of the game.
How real-life manufacturers are harnessing digital transformation
The webinar provided some real-life use-cases of organizations using technology to transform their operations, keeping the customer in mind. Perhaps the most interesting example was Ulbrich Stainless Steel. Being a manufacturer that dealt largely with contract work, they were coming up against downtime that was severely hindering their ability to stay ahead of production and fulfill their contract requirements.
By using IoT sensors, they were able to monitor critical pieces of equipment and capture sensor data to quickly catch and prevent changes that could lead to unscheduled downtime. This had the mutually beneficial outcome of making them more efficient and keeping customers happy.
There are still very real challenges standing in the way of digital transformation
While it’s clear that digital transformation is a necessary piece of the future of maintenance, Kevin was quick to acknowledge the fact that there are very real challenges organizations are facing that should be addressed before they dive in.
Data management issues
Digital transformation and data go hand-in-hand. Technologies like sensors, CMMS software, and AI all make loads of data available for those in charge of driving reliability. However, without the resources and skills to analyze these huge pools of data, it’s impossible to turn information into action. Organizations will need to prepare for the inevitable influx of information with careful planning and staffing.
Staffing and development
Speaking of staffing, maintenance is too often one of the more chronically under-resourced functions. There are rarely enough people to address the day-to-day needs of the organization, so taking the time to properly train staff and ensure the right personnel are in place will take deliberate effort and execution.
Finally, Kevin noted that a lack of investment in technology is the single biggest challenge he continues to see. It’s near-impossible to build out new technologies if you’re starting with systems that can’t integrate with a network of solutions, or are not user-friendly.
Digital transformation is a journey, not a destination
Kevin wrapped up his section of the webinar by introducing the key steps that should be present in any maintenance digital transformation journey:
- Look inward: Before introducing any new technology, it’s necessary to look within your organization. Do you have the right people, with the right skillsets, to drive digital transformation? Are your staff comfortable taking on new technology? If not, what training needs to take place to get them there? It’s important to have a specific goal that new technology will help you achieve. Kevin notes that adding new technology will lead to a change in processes, so ensure you think through what will have to change.
- Select the right partners: Doing the work in step one will make it clear how much help you’ll need in getting a new technology up and running. Make sure you select a vendor that focuses on successful implementation and enables you and your staff to get the most you can out of the system. It’s also smart to think about what other technology you’ll want to integrate with, and whether this solution is compatible.
- Take ownership of the implementation: While finding the right partner is critical, it’s also important that you and your staff are invested in the implementation. You’ll want to have as much say as you can during set-up and training so that you can ensure everything makes sense within the context of your organization. Every business is different, and so implementation will vary from case to case.
- Realize that post-implementation is critical: Setting up a new system is one thing, but making it part of everyday use is another. Ensure you have a strategy in place to encourage adoption among your maintenance team. It’s important to realize that enthusiasm for new technology comes from the top down, so if you’re not making a good case for why your staff should want to use it, they’ll have trouble seeing the value as well.
Getting realistic about reliability
Fiix’s Solutions Engineering Lead, Stuart Fergusson, was next to take the floor during the webinar. While Kevin’s segment took a wide-angle approach on the subject of digital transformation in the world of manufacturing, Stuart honed in on maintenance strategies and how CMMS software interacts with that world.
Right off the bat, Stuart took a realistic approach to the subject of digital transformation in maintenance. He noted that while the industry in general is moving towards increasingly more technology-informed strategies like predictive maintenance, that doesn’t mean that more traditional strategies like preventive, or even reactive, maintenance are going anywhere.
Rather, gaining the ability to perform maintenance should only change the way you maintain your most critical assets—those pieces that can’t go down. Stuart was quick to emphasize that a robust maintenance strategy should revolve around all types of maintenance working together.
Know your actionable endpoints
Stuart then went on to describe the “Ladder to CMMS success”. This framework introduces the idea of an organization’s journey with maintenance software as a series of steps, starting as a tool used solely for asset management, and eventually becoming a tool that allows you to carry out predictive maintenance and work in new ways.
In order to get to the top of the ladder, though, organizations need to know in advance what their actionable endpoints are. That is, when you bring in new technology, how will that technology drive action within your organization? In order to drive actionable endpoints, your CMMS needs to operate as a connected platform—one that uses data and workflows intelligently and in tandem with other systems. For example, a CMMS operating as a connected platform would take in input from a vibration analysis to generate a work order push notification for a technician.
Of course, no rungs on the ladder should be skipped. Putting in the work as an organization to master each step in the journey to CMMS success is as necessary as it is beneficial for the organization.
The bottom line: It’s not too late to get started on your digital transformation journey
Both Kevin and Stuart frequently came back to the same point throughout the webinar: That there are many different ways an organization can start their journey of digital transformation. Because it’s a concept that involves many different solutions, digital transformation will look different for everyone. When you look at it this way, it becomes less daunting. The important thing is that you determine what you’re trying to achieve, and then evaluate solutions based on that.
You can watch the webinar here.