Why manufacturers shouldn’t fear digital transformation in the workplace

By Ravi Krishnamoorthi, - Future Workplace 2025 - ArticlesIndustryManufacturing

Digital transformation has not come easily to the manufacturing industry.

90% of manufacturing firms see the complexity of current workplace technology as a barrier to productivity, and our research revealed that over half think cybersecurity measures also harm productivity while 22% say technology prolongs the time it takes to get new products to market.

These statistics tell a simple story: for the majority of manufacturing firms, technology is actually hindering the business of production.

Clearly something has to give.

A few weeks ago I co-hosted a webinar with PAC analyst Klaus Holzhauser in which we explored the future of the manufacturing industry. We touched on the major forces shaping business today: the new generations entering the workplace, the desire for a more ecologically friendly, flexible and boundary-less way of working and the role of digital technology in enabling all of this.

We also addressed the specific challenges threatening the manufacturing industry, evaluating the position of the industry today in contrast to how it might look in 10 years.

Here’s what we discussed…

An engine for growth

The manufacturing workplace has huge potential to be an engine for growth if it embraces digital transformation.

This involves investing in open collaboration, seeking ways to provide employees with greater mobility within the factory facilities and adopting internet of things (IoT) technology on the factory floor.

These three changes will yield massive results.

Connected IoT tech can track the progress of production tasks and alert people to faults from the factory floor through their mobile device.

This will increase efficiency and provide employees with a better experience at work. Instead of being stuck in one place on an assembly line they can move about where they are needed.

Making greater use of automation and sensors will also make production lines more self-reliant, enabling predictive maintenance and reducing disruption and downtime.

And finally, open innovation will empower design and production teams to seek external input to help them improve products and manufacturing techniques, so the whole production process will keep getting better and better.

The ultimate aim for manufacturers should be to create ‘digital factories’: spaces that use smart products and services to become highly efficient, integrated cyber-physical production systems.

This is the ideal for the manufacturing industry, but it’s distant from the reality visible on most factory floors, where technology limits innovation and productivity instead of driving it.

But change on the horizon, with some organizations already leading the way.

Transforming from the workplace up

Making a change in the workplace can revolutionise operations across your whole organization.

A case in point is Adidas and its SPEEDFACTORY initiative.

The SPEEDFACTORY employs open-source co-creation processes and emerging technologies like 3D printing and IoT in the process of shoe production.

It normally takes around 60 days to make a shoe using the conventional process. Humans still do much of the stitching, gluing, and other labor-intensive processes by hand. Even once the shoe is ready, it takes another 60 days to ship it. At the SPEEDFACTORY robots do most of the work and complete production in a matter of days.

This marks a huge improvement in efficiency and operational performance for Adidas, and a total transformation of the way shoes are produced by manufacturers worldwide.

Real innovation comes from process, not product

The manufacturing industry as a whole is starting to look towards digital transformation as the answer to falling productivity and a lack of innovation.

Investment in new technology is already on the rise. The majority of manufacturers we spoke to are planning strategic investments in transformational tools such as social enterprise platforms (58%), digital virtual assistants (51%) and robotic process automation (42%) – all key components of the ‘digital factory’.

But it’s not just about adding new tech. Developing a digital workplace is also about changing policy.

There needs to be a culture change surrounding old ideas about ways of working. Employees need to be given the chance to enjoy the increased workplace flexibility offered by a digital workplace.

Organizational structures and even job roles will have to change to reflect the fact that a digitally engaged workforce can do more than ever before. And with greater efficiency.

More than anything, manufacturing companies must remember that digital transformation is iterative. It requires consistent refinement and improvement as technologies improve and new opportunities present themselves.

Manufacturing firms need to remember that the ideal workplace is always changing. By the time we arrive at the digital factory of 2025, there will be a new ideal to aim for.

This is why it’s such an exciting time to work in our industry.

Watch the full Building a Workplace for the Digital Factory webinar to learn more.

Read our latest blog post with Citrix to learn how to balance the generational differences in the workplace with the rise of Generation Z. 

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