How Manufacturers Can Streamline Digital Transformation for Faster Results

How Manufacturers Can Streamline Digital Transformation for Faster Results
How Manufacturers Can Streamline Digital Transformation for Faster Results

Digital Transformation is a process that modern manufacturers will eventually need to undertake—if it isn’t an ongoing journey already. While most companies are expecting huge benefits from digital transformation in manufacturing, it usually comes with reservations that it is a long, tedious process that can take more than two years to achieve success. This timeframe is misleading, as a streamlined strategy aims to provide benefits for the manufacturer in a matter of months, as proven by real-world success stories.

What is slowing you down?

DT takes a lot of preparation and requires particular infrastructure to be in place. It is not, by any means, a requirement to exhaust a 2-year timeframe to see benefits, but it could seem like that if a company falls for the common pitfalls of improper implementation.
Some of the biggest concerns that companies encounter when taking on digital transformation relate to the availability of resources. Existing infrastructure and operational processes make up one of the top constraints manufacturers consider against driving progress.
The gap between current and required skills is also a crucial factor in the speed of implementation. Remember that dealing with a more technologically advanced system potentially requires employees to acquire new knowledge. A quick solution might be to seek external resources to augment technological capacities. However, this approach cycles back to cost and budget considerations. It also adds another layer of complexity in aligning the technology and operational teams.
While these concerns are valid, the good news is that there have been numerous opportunities that allow teams to address the obstacles. In the same way that technology opens up new challenges, it also provides unprecedented tools to overcome deterrents.

Surpassing limitations

One way to accelerate the benefits of DT is to identify targeted opportunities that can deliver a clear return on investment. Through this approach, teams can objectively prioritize areas that add the most value to a business. This process can only be possible by first having the proper data to understand the cost of issues and the corresponding value of resolving them. Evaluating the budget then becomes a data-driven activity instead of having to pour out valuable resources and wait indefinitely to see results.
A great example that exhibits this approach is the type of circular economy launched by Sandvik Coromant. Their buy-back program takes in worn-out carbide tools from customers to be re-processed. The collected waste still contains the scarce metal tungsten that can be recycled to create new tools. Using recycled materials to produce new products requires 70% less energy, making the initiative sustainable and profitable. 
Before this model could succeed, digitalization was a crucial step to set things in motion. Sensors and transmitters scan and track the returned tools in batches. The process then continues through a series of analysis procedures, including x-ray fluorescence analysis to identify and quantify the metallurgical makeup of the collected material. While each step requires resources for infrastructure and additional operating costs, the return on investment is evident.  There is a clear motivation to drive implementation with laser-like focus. In addition to the savings realized from sustainable practices, the initiative also influences carbon footprint reductions and environmental awareness. 

Simplifying complex systems

Moving from decades-old ways of working to a more digitalized environment can seem technically overwhelming -but that does not mean that new systems have to be unlearnable. Modern platforms have recognized the value of a more user-friendly interface early, as well as how it translates to higher utilization. It is easy to imagine how simplifying complex systems translates to faster implementation, but the benefits of a simple system create a snowball effect as more team members build the competencies to contribute to the project.
For instance, DT closely relates to high-tech IT solutions and therefore implies the use of complicated programming languages. However, there are available low-code platforms that use more intuitive coding languages. By exploring these alternatives, technical work does not rely solely on dedicated developers. These options allow companies to upskill team members and augment the more tech-savvy population. The results of such platforms are promising, as 70% of users without prior experience learned low code in less than a month.
Easy-to-use modern systems, as opposed to legacy systems, create a multiplier effect in getting back value. They enable more people within the plant to participate firsthand in project development. Using more traditional applications tends to have the consequence of hampering progress by making learning too restrictive.

Setting the right targets

Evaluating the speed and success of implementation relies on setting the appropriate targets and focus. An essential step to developing targets is assessing current processes to define a baseline. As the teams list out all the relevant systems, varying levels of complexity should emerge and allow for an objective prioritization.
Because different parts of the business could be in varying states of digital maturity, the measures of success will not strictly be the same across the board. Consider less complex processes with minimal dependencies as "quick wins" that will provide benefits within a few months. Any investments in digital systems will likely realize returns quickly. Moreover, highlighting these incremental successes builds the morale of the team and the momentum to take on projects with a broader scope.


Because DT involves the most advanced forms of technology, it is easy to fall into the trap of settling for lengthy implementation timelines. However, recognizing that multiple manageable targeted areas comprise the entire DT journey allows for a more insightful approach to prioritization. Accelerated timeframes for streamlined processes allow quicker, more effective execution that takes a fraction of the expected duration.

Digital transformation survey results

Implementing digital systems and technology into conventional processes will not only enable you to stay competitive but will also provide a positive ROI and reduced labor costs. This was emphasized by the respondents to a digital transformation in manufacturing industry survey L2L conducted in January 2022.

Even though positive ROI and reduced labor were pointed out as benefits of digital transformation, 42% of the respondents also stated that their company has not started its digital transformation yet. When viewed alongside some other answers—such as 51% of respondents believing their competitors are investing into DT, and 75% stating they believe their competition is ahead of them in DT—it becomes even more clear that starting digital transformation is imperative.

Click the button below to view the L2L infographic to discover more results from our survey.

About The Author

Eric Whitley has 30 years of experience in manufacturing, holding positions such as Total Productive Maintenance Champion for Autoliv ASP, an automotive safety system supplier that specializes in airbags and restraint systems. He is also an expert in lean and smart manufacturing practices and technologies. Over the years, Eric has worked with all sectors of industry including Food, Timber, Construction, Chemical and Automotive to name a few. Currently, he’s a part of the L2L team.

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