Manufacturers need to become agile, adaptable

Digital transformation is fundamental to the survival of manufacturing

  
Employees of German car manufacturer Porsche work on a sports car at the Porsche factory in Stuttgart-Zuffenhausen, Germany, January 26, 2018.

Employees of German car manufacturer Porsche work on a sports car at the Porsche factory in Stuttgart-Zuffenhausen, Germany, January 26, 2018.

REUTERS/Ralph Orlowski

We might be experiencing uncertain times globally — both politically and economically — but it is also the perfect time for regional manufacturers to regroup, refocus, and embrace the unknown, by taking steps to future-proof their business.

Being agile and adaptable has never been more relevant, but taking the opportunity will demand change for many manufacturers.
This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Being able to adapt to change should underpin every business strategy.
The use of technology and the Internet of Things (IoT) to make this happen is crucial, and a key part of success — not just a cost centre.
 
Digital transformation has a vital role to play in helping manufacturers across the globe steady the ship and ride the choppy waters of change. Political uncertainty and volatility are a common cause for concern among manufacturers across the globe when it comes to business growth. Indeed, a recent survey suggests that one in three (32 percent) are worried about the negative impact that the China-US trade dispute could have on future business growth, with 29 percent of manufacturers considering exchange rate fluctuations as a significant threat. In addition to the current political climate, ever-changing legislation and regulations keep businesses on their toes and needing to adapt to a moving target.
 
Keeping pace with technology is crucial in helping to overcome the unknown and remain agile and competitive in the future. The businesses that embrace uncertainty will also become more attractive to potential employees and the existing workforce, by positioning themselves as a company willing to innovate and invest for long-term success.
 
Embracing agility
 
Becoming more agile doesn’t mean massive capital investment in technology or a complete overhaul of existing systems. In fact, technology is now much more affordable and accessible than it was a few years ago. When it comes to using technology to enhance productivity and operations — and ultimately business agility — the barriers to entry have fallen.
 
Technology should be adopted to help solve business needs and drive growth, particularly at times of uncertainty or flux, when resources must be examined and minimised where possible.
 
For example, Dolphin Group, a leading manufacturer of high performance industrial and automotive thermal products in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), has deployed technology to break down data siloes and facilitate visibility and transparency across departments. An ERP solution is enabling Dolphin Group’s employees to be more efficient, and make better, faster, day-to-day business critical decisions. Particularly for the operations team, modules such as planning and scheduling, production management, service management, warehouse management, and manufacturing execution system (MES) have allowed them to deploy several industry best practices across the shop floor. This has resulted in lower material waste and improved product quality and on time delivery (OTD).
These operational improvements are expected to allow the company to add new product lines, expand operations, and grow revenue streams.
 
To remain agile, manufacturers should look at digital transformation as a system of levels, and take it step by step — you can’t unlock the benefits of the next stage until you have the current one finalised. The journey to digital transformation should be something that builds, and the growing availability of software as a service (SaaS) and cloud computing is making it easier and more affordable for firms to achieve that, putting the right foundations in place to be able to adapt when needed.
 
Investing in the future
 
Having the right technology foundations in place will also pay dividends in making manufacturing an attractive sector to work in, positioning it as innovative and ready to embrace change. With skills shortages still making the headlines across the globe, only those firms who take the right steps to attract workers will succeed.
 
The marriage of technology and skills will pay a central role in getting the most from the existing and future workforce. Being agile not only applies to the technology deployed, but the way it is used and developed. Many manufacturers will already have the relevant expertise and digital understanding in-house to make technology adoption a success. It just requires a change in mindset and a switch of the traditional ‘top-down’ approach to diffusing knowledge throughout the workforce. Once a digital culture is established in the workplace, the door is open for innovation.
 
Refocus to realise results
 
Digital transformation is fundamental to the survival of manufacturing, but it need not be overwhelming or a ‘rip and replace’ scenario. If businesses can build their systems step-by-step, level-by-level, and transform only where there is a good business case, they are well on their way to thriving in the new world and remaining successful.
Times are changing, but it doesn’t have to pose a threat. Instead it should give local Middle East manufacturers the imperative to regroup and realign, becoming more agile and able to embrace change head on — it’s not a threat on the horizon but an opportunity.
• Amel Gardner is regional vice president, Middle East, Africa & India (MEAI), Epicor Software Corp.

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