While the fourth industrial revolution began an entire decade before the COVID-19 pandemic, the spread of the virus has only accelerated the changes this revolution has been promising. Manufacturers across the globe have been forced to find ways to maintain productivity in the face of lockdown restrictions that severely limited the number of staff they could bring in to run their operations. Of course, the natural solution to these issues is digital transformation. Many manufacturers have invested in new hardware like industrial computers, tablets, digital sensors, and brand-new software during the pandemic.

However, digitizing a manufacturing operation is not as simple as one would think. Many manufacturers run into several obstacles as they try to bring their factories into the 21st century. Fortunately, there are steps you can take to avoid these obstacles.

Obstacles to Digital Transformation

While the potential benefits of digitization are many, rolled out improperly, digital transformations can create headaches and fall short of delivering the desired improvements. It’s no wonder a 2016 survey conducted by Forbes found that 86% of companies that attempted a digital transformation felt their efforts did not meet their expectations in some way. 

Below is a breakdown of the four main reasons that companies’ digital transformations have fallen short of their potential:

Lack of Strategy

As we covered in our last industrial blog, while many large manufacturers are well into their digital transformations, smaller manufacturers are still only in the beginning stages. Unfortunately, too many of these companies approach their digital transformations without a game plan. 

Part of this may be due to ignorance. After all, many US manufacturers report that they see digitization simply as a process of going paperless and are unaware of much of the Industry 4.0 technology out there. Accordingly, when they decide to digitize finally, many companies find themselves flying blind and miss out on many of the benefits digitization offers.

Without a roadmap, your digital transformation can dissolve into chaos and create more problems than it solves. Given that many manufacturers dipping their toes into the digital world are ignorant of the tech out there, they often find themselves overwhelmed by the available options even before purchasing any hardware or software. In the absence of a plan, some manufacturers buy the wrong tech and then find themselves in a supplier relationship that does not benefit them but cannot extract themselves. This especially true with software purchases.

The problems created by a lack of a digital transformation roadmap don’t end once the new tech is acquired. Throwing a new fleet of industrial tablets, for instance, equipped with brand new software into a preexisting operation can grind everything to a halt. Workers have to scramble to integrate this new tech into what they already know to do, which can hurt productivity, and unforeseen errors and glitches can shut down an entire operation. 

Employee Resistance

Sometimes, the thing that throws a wrench into a digital transformation has nothing to do with issues with the tech itself. Though it may seem counterintuitive, Industry 4.0 technology is designed to make work easier after all, it is often workers themselves who seek to hinder digital transformation efforts.  

Though puzzling at first glance, there are several reasons workers may find themselves resistant to digital change. Some workers may find the tech unnecessary – after all, their workflow has been working so far; why change things now? Others may feel they lack the knowledge to use the new tech and become intimidated when they don’t immediately understand a new interface or workflow. Still others may think that the new technology will replace them and see digitization as a threat to their livelihoods.

Clear communication is key to alleviating employee resistance to digitization. It is incumbent on company leadership to explain why the digital transformation is occurring and why specific processes need to be updated. Data can be a persuasive way to convince people workers exactly what inefficiencies exist in your current paradigm and how the new technology will eliminate them. In addition, it is essential to provide your workers with the space to air their concerns without fear of reprisal or recrimination. 

Ultimately, you don’t want your workers to feel that digital transformation is an imposition. Instead, you want them to feel involved at every step of the process.

Training & Skills Gaps

Part and parcel with employee resistance to digitization is a lack of tech-savvy. Many people simply do not have, or do not feel they have, the basis of knowledge to operate an Industrial Panel PC or Tablet, let alone industry-specific software. Without proper training, your workers can find themselves running advanced tech by the seat of their pants. This is just a recipe for disaster.

Those who have a more mercenary attitude towards their business may think it more straightforward to replace workers who lack the tech-savvy to pick up new technology. However, this attitude flies in the face of the current reality of the labor market. Manufacturers have been facing labor shortages for some time now, and COVID-19 has only accelerated this problem. It’s challenging to find workers who have the skills to work heavy manufacturing equipment AND know the ins and outs of a computer network. 

Manufacturers looking to digitize their operations need to account for this skills gap in their digital transformation plans. A robust training plan that meets workers where they are is key to successful digitization. Additionally, it is essential to foster a company culture that embraces digital technology and encourages curiosity. Without doing so, companies are setting themselves up for digital failure.

Budget Constraints

Despite the increased profits that come with the productivity gains of digitization, budgetary constraints are one of the biggest obstacles to digital transformation faced by most manufacturers. A complete digital overhaul of an entire factory can entail purchasing a wide array of hardware and software, and the upfront cost of all these new purchases can cause even those with loose wallets to balk.

Given that any overhaul of your systems will entail significant financial investment, it is important not to bite off more than you can chew. Your digital transformation rollout plan should involve multiple stages. This will not only help your staff get used to new tech and workflows gradually, but it will also spread the upfront costs of digitization over a much longer stretch of time. Additionally, by rolling things out in stages, you can assess and address hidden costs and inefficiencies created by the new tech before going on to the next step. 

Final Thoughts

Remember that despite its promise, digitization is not an instant process that will pay off immediately. It takes dedication and time, and with a well-thought-out plan and clear communication between leadership and employees, it can really pay dividends. If you’re interested in developing a digital transformation strategy for your manufacturing business, contact the experts at Cybernet today!