Leading production development projects in the Industry 4.0 era

The good news: production digitalization and automation are used to create super productive and flexible production facilities. The challenging news: acquiring these systems and the associated change management is very difficult and requires an entirely different level of commitment and in-depth production activity analysis. In this blog, I discuss some of the projects implemented by Leanware and will highlight some common factors that have led to success.

Initial thought: if it is difficult, can it simply be left undone? According to futurists, half of the work will evolve very rapidly. Pioneer companies gain a competitive advantage from the change. In addition, these companies are able to accomplish operational development quicker than traditional companies. The slower half of the companies will make the changes when they have to. This will result in the changes only elevating them to the same level in quality, efficiency and adaptability as the other companies are already operating on. Alternatively put, digitalization is unavoidable and will come quickly. It provides the first half with competitive advantage. It is merely a required expenditure for the second half to keep the company in the competition.

In my experience, the client has always had two things in order with successfully implemented change projects: ownership and foresight.

With ownership here I mean both ownership of the process subject to the project and the goals of the project itself. An owner must understand the bigger picture and have the authority to implement improvements. Industry 4.0 has a concept called the Cyber-Physical System. It refers to the entity consisting of advanced devices, software and people. The effect of the different components in the system as a whole are significant. Therefore, the planning of a change project cannot be divided into independent separate components (e.g. automation and software). Instead, planning requires in-depth understanding of all areas.

The most common challenges are created when the project is diced into too small pieces according to the traditional model. The independent project managers assigned to the pieces and their success are only measured by adhering to the budgets and schedules. This creates a situation where the bigger picture is lost. A good basic test for recognizing this situation is to ask the project manager “Why?”. If the project manager is unable to explain why the material flow has been designed in the way it has or why the manufacturing process of a product is planned the way it is, you are likely facing problems or the end result will be a major compromise.

Client foresight is another requirement for success. Foresight refers to how the client sees the development of their production over the coming years. The development must have a direction and it must be divided into phases. We have several wonderful clients that have a clear direction and areas have been improved step by step. Occasionally, the step pattern had to be amended, while still maintaining the right direction. Regardless of personnel turnover at the client, the direction has been maintained.

A clear perception of the current status is one of the success factors for projects. Value Stream Mapping is an excellent tool for this. The beauty of VSM is that it uncovers the different process variants. When a variant was originally created, it was sure to have a good reason for it. It is good to standardize processes according to Lean principles. It is good to ask “Why?” five times for every process and process variant. For me, the best result for a project was reducing the material flows from 22 to 13. As a result of this, efficiency was greatly increased, the quality of materials management was considerably better and the volumes of goods on the floor were reduced.

Industry 4.0 digitalization and automation enable astonishing increases in productivity. This train is already traveling at full speed. The first half gains a competitive advantage, the second half are left with merely picking up the bill. The client has always had two things in order with successfully implemented change projects: ownership and foresight. The processes must always be “leaned down” by considering the opportunities created by new technologies. Where are you seated on the Industry 4.0 train?

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