Digital Transformation: The Necessity for ‘Unified Leadership Alignment’

Company manufacturing leaders need to get on the same page with digital transformation projects if they are going to succeed

As any company that has undertaken a digital transformation knows from sometimes painful experience, transitioning to the digital model of manufacturing includes overcoming many obstacles. Over the last several years, MLC research has revealed that dealing with legacy systems, keeping abreast of new technologies, and developing return-on-investment models for digital manufacturing expenditures are among the most important challenges manufacturers say they face in their Manufacturing 4.0 journeys.

There are several cultural and organizational issues that manufacturers must sort through as well. After all, digital transformation should not be thought of as just another technology project; it is an undertaking the entirety of the organization must be involved with since it will inevitably change nearly every aspect of how work is conducted, how products are built, and, perhaps most importantly, how power and authority flows in a company.

This aspect of an M4.0 journey – the internal organizational dynamics – was highlighted in a recent MLC Master Class Executive Interview program with NTT DATA, an MLC member company. The program centered on a new survey called “The Road to Industry 4.0” produced by NTT DATA and Oxford Economics. In a question-and-answer session I had with Baskar Radhakrishnan, NTT DATA’s Strategic Advisor for Manufacturing, I asked Mr. Radhakrishnan what he thought were the most important challenges faced by manufacturers as they attempt to get underway with M4.0. He didn’t hesitate: “A lack of unified leadership alignment.”

Why is it so difficult sometimes to get key stakeholders on the same page regarding a strategic move like a digital transformation? In some companies, I think it simply could be that not everyone clearly understands the goals and benefits of such an undertaking. But I also think part of the answer can be found in the words of that question. Digital transformations, by their nature, can indeed be strategic, meaning that they could involve a fundamental or major change in the direction of a company. And the word transform – which means “to change in condition, nature, or character” – clearly signals that what came before may not continue ahead.

As we all know and may have experienced in our own business lives, change can be hard and even frightening when patterns of work or even job roles change. And at the executive level, the often-unmentioned additional elements of power and prestige can come into play. One can role-play typical questions: ‘How will a digital transformation affect my area of expertise and control and my career path?’ ‘I have many years in manufacturing, but do I have enough understanding of digital to continue to contribute or will I become obsolete?’ ‘How can I be sure that the company will continue to be successful after a digital transformation?’

Add into this mix the still relatively early stage the industry is in with regards to codifying the payback and benefits of digital transformation and it is not hard to understand why some executives, including those long in place in their careers and jobs, may still have questions or even hesitancy about a strategy that transforms.

Nevertheless, the unified leadership alignment cited by Mr. Radhakrishnan not only needs to be done but can be done if manufacturing leadership takes the right steps and follows through. My interpretation of this is that leadership needs to work hard to clearly formulate and articulate the vision, goals, and objectives of a digital transformation to everyone in the organization, especially the leadership team which will ultimately be charged with carrying the message and developing the strategy and planning needed to see a transformation through to a successful conclusion. This involves a whole gamut of work, from envisioning a new and better business end state enabled by digital transformation to how a transformation can benefit the individual employee. And leadership needs to be open and transparent about the challenges along the way even as those challenges are being defined as the journey proceeds.

Obviously, this is quite an undertaking for leadership, requiring great reservoirs of stamina and persistence. After all, digital transformation isn’t an option anymore. It’s a business necessity if a company wants to not only survive but thrive in the years ahead. And that may be all the motivation a manufacturer needs to press head.

For an additional resource and further insights, access to the recent NTT DATA and Oxford Research study can be found here:



Blockchain in the Semiconductor Industry: 5 Innovative Use Cases

Blockchain technology is set to empower the semiconductor industry to expand its business horizons.

According to Reportlinker research, the semiconductor silicon wafer market stood at $9.85 billion in 2019 and will reach $13.64 billion by 2025, with a CAGR of 6.18% between 2020 to 2025. Such growth rates accentuate the need for semiconductor companies to integrate business processes with the blockchain to enhance security, transparency, and encryption. While blockchain technology is still in the early stages of development, it is now poised to aid semiconductor manufacturers in decreasing costs & counterfeits and enhance visibility into the value chain.

Embracing Blockchain

With semiconductors evolving as the building block in multiple hi-tech products  – from smartphones, to electric vehicles, to household appliances – industry innovation and advancements directly impact a broad range of market segments. As the demand grows multifold, so will the complexities across manufacturing & supply networks.

Enter blockchain, which has the potential to help ease many semiconductor manufacturing pain points. Blockchain’s distributed functionality, bundled security measures, and inherent features such as smart contracts, assist manufacturers in tracing goods, regulatory compliance, managing records transparently, and automating supply chain processes & payments. It also enhances collaboration among suppliers, manufacturers, and customers. In addition, it helps protect IP and reduces counterfeiting, while integrating blockchain with IoT and AI/ML technologies, helps to improve their predictive maintenance capabilities, reduce batch-based updates, and increase transparency & harmony in the value chain.

Blockchain Use Cases 

#1 Blockchain for Supply Chain Visibility

Both COVID and recent semiconductor shortages have underscored the need for deep insights into both the immediate supply chain and the supplier’s supply chain down to the source. Blockchain does just that, bringing all the stakeholders under one unified platform and enhancing transparency. The threat of disruption can be eliminated when there is clear visibility through multiple levels, from manufacturers to distributors and repair shops. As a result, the global blockchain supply chain market is slated to grow from US$253 million in 2020 to US$3,272 million by 2026, at a CAGR of 53.2% during the forecast period, according to the Markets & Markets report.

Implementing blockchain solutions help semiconductor companies to record price, date, location, quality, certification, and other relevant information to manage their supply chains effectively. The availability of this information within blockchain increases traceability of the material supply chain, lowers losses from the counterfeit and gray market, improves visibility & compliance over outsourced contract manufacturing, and potentially enhances a semiconductor company’s brand equity in the market.

Moreover, combining blockchain technology with Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) tag equipment enhances the visibility of wafer electronics along the supply chain. It helps verify the sources of raw material origins from the supplier, track & trace materials with unique data ID, and detect any counterfeits.

Data is written onto an RFID tag, which can be encrypted and published through blockchain technology. Merging the blockchain technology with RFID tag equipment lets the manufacturers, suppliers, distributors, transporters, and customers create a single source of trusted information mechanism in the supply chain.

#2 Blockchain for Enterprise Collaboration

Businesses have started leveraging blockchain’s intrinsic traits into their operations, such as security, integrity, and transparency. The versatile nature of blockchain permits companies to collaborate safely with business partners in a shielded environment. Blockchain solutions synchronize data between business partners, creating a shared and immutable record of data and transactions.

Acting effectively as a ‘middleware’ enables confidential and complex collaboration between enterprises without leaving any sensitive data on-chain. Blockchains build relationships and drive collaboration while letting enterprises stay in control of their sensitive information. The blockchain network safeguards the privacy of all of the parties involved and strengthens the security and credibility of the transaction.

Offering stakeholders access to the same information in real-time, blockchain develops a trusted environment among the partners by sharing verified information on a shared ledger. This creates newer opportunities for semiconductor enterprises as well as their suppliers and assists them in navigating new value for many years to come.

#3 Blockchain for Business Process Transformation

Blockchain technology contains a record of all transactions happening in a peer-to-peer network. With each occurrence of a new transaction, data transferred through blockchain gets encrypted, making the entire ledger highly secure. Always looking for new opportunities, many businesses have already started using blockchain as part of their business process transformation strategy. One of the biggest use cases in this journey has been blockchain-based tracking of raw materials & finished products, providing detailed tracking information to all stakeholders within the supply chain.

Another blockchain feature that businesses are fast exploring is the smart contract. Smart contracts get automatically executed when predetermined conditions and terms are met satisfactorily. According to Gartner, the business value of blockchain will exceed $3.1 trillion by 2030, and this augurs well for the early adopter semiconductor industry to integrate enterprise-wide secure blockchain networks into their existing technology platforms and scale their businesses rapidly.

#4 Blockchain for Data Monetization

There is no central data repository controlled by only one organization due to the distributed record system in the blockchain network. As no single central data store is open to external attacks, security is far stronger. Once data gets embedded onto the chain, it cannot be changed. Blockchain integrates best-of-breed cryptographic mechanisms which guarantee the network participants’ digital identity and secures the stored data’s privacy to enable role-based data access. Additionally, smart contracts – embedded business logic – can be added to a blockchain, which enables the automation of many processes and secures the handling of contracts. The application of smart contracts automatically structures that data into a digestible format, eliminating manual re-organization. Offering all the stakeholders in the value chain greater visibility into the data, the distributed ledger enhances transparency, data distribution timeliness, information sharing, and data access.

#5 Blockchain for Counterfeit Equipment and Material Identification 

Companies have been combating counterfeiters for years, investing significant time and resources to guard against the risk of defective and fake parts entering the production system and to prevent clever look-alikes and reverse-engineered goods from stealing sales.

According to a BCG study, counterfeit parts cost component manufacturers about $100 billion annually in the electronics industry. The Semiconductor Industry Association estimates that semiconductor manufacturers lose $7.5 billion in revenue to counterfeiting each year. A further study by OECD stated that counterfeit & pirated goods accounted for $461 billion in worldwide trade. That’s about 2.5% of global GDP, which doesn’t include untold additional costs from the threats counterfeits may pose to the recipients’ health, safety, and security.

The use of smart tags and blockchain allows supply chain partners to verify a product’s authenticity quickly. Even if a smart tag can be copied, the information on the blockchain will remain unchanged. A scan of the item will exhibit the exact location of manufacturing and sale, exposing the duplicate item as a fake. Advances in blockchain-with-IoT counterfeit detection provide visibility in tracing and recording of provenance data from source to sale.

New Horizons

Blockchain provides an immutable, permanent digital record of materials, parts, and products, augmenting end-to-end visibility to all the stakeholders in the semiconductor value chain. Reducing costs & time by eliminating the need for third parties that manage ledgers and transparent transactions ultimately improves the profitability of semiconductor companies.

The ability to support smart contracts, such as on the Hyperledger Fabric and Ethereum platforms, is opening possibilities for speeding commerce and reducing costs. As edge computing and blockchains advance in capability and become integrated or interoperable, semiconductor companies would achieve peak efficiency and flexibility. In short, blockchain is set to empower the semiconductor industry to expand its business horizons.


Harnessing Next-Generation Warehouse Robotics

Advances in robotics and AI are driving innovation in warehouse automation.

A radical shift in consumer behavior accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic has exponentially expanded the wide-scale adoption of e-commerce and online purchasing. As consumers increasingly make online purchases for standard items like groceries and household supplies, this shift is likely to become permanent ― creating a significant impact on warehouse operations and creating new opportunities for innovation.

Early winners so far in this business environment have been the technology-embracing early adopters such as Amazon and Ocado, who have innovated with robotics and software to create more efficient, durable supply chains. However, there’s room in this space for all players who are prepared to adopt warehouse automation and robotics. It’s likely that those who don’t participate in this disruptive innovation risk being left behind.

Adapting to Warehouse Challenges

Traditionally, robotics has been applied in repeatable, fixtured applications such as those on automotive assembly lines. Now, artificial intelligence (AI) and the Internet of Things (IoT) are enabling breakthroughs in robotic perception and complex decision-making in real time. This allows robotic technologies to operate effectively in more complicated, unstructured environments such as the warehouse and distribution networks.

Due to the inherent modularity and scalability of robotics systems for picking, sorting, and palletizing, organizations of all sizes can reap the benefits of these innovations while making warehouse operations more efficient, cost-effective and safe. The ability to add solutions with a high return ROI, intermixed with manual processes, make them ideal candidates for investment in existing manual facilities.

The Robotics Opportunity

The rise of e-commerce has stressed existing parcel and distribution networks to their limits. Faced with a huge need for the efficiencies and increased capacity that warehouse automation can fill, a new breed of intelligent robotics solutions has started to go mainstream. The scalability of these solutions makes them a good fit for an industry that is still mostly manual, and they are a logical next step. For many enterprises, warehouse automation adoption is lagging significantly or absent altogether. According to DHL research, 80% of warehouses remain manually operated. Another recent survey indicates that the greatest investments to date are in conveyance (63%), while robotic palletizing and picking are still very low (15% and 8%, respectively).

Major e-commerce companies know that nimble, automated supply chains are key to meeting demand and staying ahead of the competition. To keep up with these major players, smaller and emerging e-commerce companies must take the right steps to automate their warehouse supply chains too.

Every Season is Peak Season

Prior to the pandemic, e-commerce and logistics were geared toward the peak season (early November through January). Distribution networks would ramp up for peak, then struggle with underutilized capacity for the remaining nine months. In 2020, the peak began in mid-March and hasn’t slowed. The challenge now for many smaller enterprises is how to innovate and grow within a peak environment that never subsides. Enterprises no longer have the luxury of a downtime during which to upgrade facilities to increase capacity and integrate new technology.

The e-commerce giants have an easier time integrating new technology organically because their technology stacks are already built. Smaller enterprises must work to bridge this chasm. One of the advantages of advanced robotics is that it can be integrated into operations without taking down a system or facility. Robotics can be added little by little, in a modular fashion, without major disruptions.

The Holistic Approach

There is now a significant need among both types of businesses to explore the best ways to develop, productize, and scale solutions across their entire distribution networks. By adopting a customized holistic solution that addresses key challenges and provides insights across their IT and warehousing infrastructures, companies now have an opportunity to drive continuous improvements and create flexible, robust supply chains that can keep up with increasing customer demands.


M2030: The Shape of Things to Come

What will the shape of manufacturing look like in ten years’ time?

“We are here to put our shoulders to the wheel of progress,” MLC Co-founder David R. Brousell told the hundreds of live and virtual attendees in his opening remarks at the MLC’s new Manufacturing in 2030 event, which opened in New Orleans earlier today.

David R. Brousell, MLC Co-Founder

“We can’t be certain about what tomorrow will bring, let alone what might be in 2030,” he continued. However, “we can project or extrapolate based on current trends and conditions, with a reasonable amount of probability, what the shape of manufacturing will look like in 10 years’ time.”

Well before the pandemic, noted Brousell, manufacturing companies were altering their organizational structures, in part due to the influence of technologies that were increasingly empowering more people with information, shifting from hierarchical, command-and-control models to flatter, more collaborative ways of organizing people and processes. As a result, manufacturing is now harnessing its intellectual capital much more effectively than ever before.

“All around us, conventional notions of what can be accomplished in production as we understand the potential of new technologies, how we arrange work and processes based on new organizational forms, and how we leverage the creativity of our people, are being reimagined,” he said.

There will continue to be challenges ahead, of course, from continued global disruptions, to redefining the relationship between humans and machines, to the increasing urgency of combatting climate change and how to create more sustainable, digitally enabled, circular business models. “Competitive advantage will flow to the companies that master these challenges,” he added.

But there will also be massive opportunities too. In the decade ahead and beyond, Brousell believes that factories and plants will be distinguished by a now evolving set of technological, organizational, and leadership characteristics that will set them apart from facilities of the past. “The extent and depth of change ahead of us will be profound”, he predicted.

That’s why events such as Manufacturing in 2030, and the MLC’s upcoming year long M2030 Project during 2022, is so vitally important to help manufacturers explore, understand, and plan for, the shape of things to come for the manufacturing industry over the next decade.

“If we do things right in the next 10 years,” stressed Brousell, “we have the opportunity to create the greatest engine of manufacturing production humankind has ever seen.”


Analytics for Aerospace: Creating One Powerful Cell

Manufacturing cells that incorporate automation and analytics can boost both efficiency and sustainability for the aerospace industry.

Aircraft manufacturing demands the highest-quality materials, highly trained experts, rigorous quality control, and precision processes that remain largely manual. These demands make it an ideal candidate for a digital reinvention.

By combining major leaps in operating technology (OT) with integrated IT for a fully optimized environment, aircraft manufacturers can take advantage of recent advances in automation and analytics to improve manufacturing speed and accuracy and reduce waste, making manufacturing cells both more efficient and sustainable.

Challenges abound

A single-aisle commercial aircraft contains tens of thousands of nutplates. The manual installation of each one takes three to four minutes.

This process is repeated thousands of times over the life of the craft as plates are removed and reinstalled for routine maintenance. Until now, nutplate installation has been done manually, exposing manufacturers to risks including:

  • Human error: Over the course of tens of thousands of manual actions, mistakes are inevitable. The potential for error is compounded by the small size of nutplate components, which make them difficult to handle and increase the potential for mistakes.
  • Rising costs: Beyond the sheer labor cost of time on the job, the associated errors of manual installation lead to increased costs through scrapped materials, poor inventory management and time-intensive quality control.
  • Inefficiency: Manual installation often requires down time for changing tools and changing shifts. It also limits visibility across the manufacturing environment, which means that resources are sometimes unavailable or poorly optimized.

To meet today’s demands to become more sustainable and socially accountable, manufacturers must also find ways to reduce the waste and inefficiencies inherent in their legacy processes, and the aerospace industry is no exception.

Tremendous Potential

To address these multiple challenges, automated manufacturing and robotics technology provider, JR Automation, has deployed Hitachi Vantara’s Lumada Manufacturing Insights in its  SmartAttach™ manufacturing cell as a way to merge the huge advances in automation at the operational level with superior insights at the informational level to help drive a comprehensive shift toward smarter aerospace manufacturing for the future.


10 Reasons Why Semiconductor Firms Should Rapidly Embrace Cloud

Semiconductor Market Trends


The semiconductor industry has been growing at a rapid pace for the past few years. Market research firm IDC estimates that  the semiconductor industry grew at a rate of 10.8% in 2020 and will grow at 12.5% this year, resulting in a $522 billion market sector. IDC attributes much of this growth to the impact of COVID-19.

The increased demand for semiconductor chips is due to new generations of smartphones, tabs, laptops, and desktop computers used in industries such as healthcare for telehealth services; in the education sector for online teaching and instruction; and as more people worked remotely. At the same time, the automotive industry, a heavy user of semiconductors,  is packing more and more chips into vehicles as it attempts to offer all the creature comforts  consumers want as they embrace the connected car experience.

In the manufacturing sector, too, the pandemic has driven home the values and virtues of setting up connected factories that enable contactless manufacturing and uninterrupted operations in the face of a crisis. All these trends indicate  that the demand  for semiconductor chips will rise steadily in the  future. Despite the rosy growth projections, the semiconductor industry still faces challenges, chief among which is continuing to innovate even as it delivers expected price/performance improvements.

Therefore, it is imperative that the industry invest more in research and development to drive innovation while at the same time optimizing costs by leveraging technology such as cloud computing.

If one examines the key attributes and requirements of the semiconductor industry – skilled resources, high competition, complex automation tools, data and IP, differences in industry supply chains, and the brief shelf-life of  designed chips,  it is apparent that these factors are highly expensive and difficult to manage. Given the level of  investments and expertise required, there are very few players in this industry. The race for excellence is fierce, and a considerable effort and investment is dedicated to driving R&D to identify areas and avenues for innovation.

Faster time to market through the acceleration of design cycles, performance enhancements of chips through upgrades and updates, and IP protection through foolproof and flawless security systems are the top three business priorities of this industry. The chip companies invest most of their time, energy, and capital in fulfilling these priorities. However, operational priorities are equally important, such as driving efficiencies in the manufacturing process through data analytics; optimizing  operations, processes, and costs; and driving productivity through collaboration.

Cloud computing provides a reliable and seamless infrastructure to address both the business and operational priorities of the semiconductor industry.

Reasons to Embrace Cloud

1. Faster Time to Market and Quicker Design and Development

The ever-increasing demand from consumers for products with higher compute powers and processing abilities has resulted in shorter product lifecycles, requiring semiconductor manufacturing companies to bring products to market faster.

To this end, applying cloud computing in the semiconductor industry offers scalable storage, big data analytics capabilities, and enhanced productivity with collaboration tools for reviews and feedback that enable quick product launches.

Cloud also provides a flexible, scalable, elastic, and secure infrastructure for chip designing by providing on-demand compute for EDA tools. It enables semiconductor manufacturers to set up and access high-performance computing (HPC) power with virtual machines (VM) images, enabling quicker design and development cycles.

2. Improvement in Foundry Operations and Yield

Cloud offers a data lake or repository that enables storing, processing, analyzing, and inferring the foundry’s generated data. Manufacturers can use data insights for predictive performance and analytics as well as the management of resources in their supply chains, thereby improving  production uptime and yield. It also allows for specific artificial intelligence and machine leaning use cases for fault detection in the production line using imaging techniques and smart analytics tools.

3. Smarter Manufacturing Powered by Democratization of Data and  Analytics

Chip designs evolve with each release, and the chip design companies have families of chips in incremental progression/evolution cycles. The chip lifecycle data must be logged, analyzed, and processed for value generation. Cloud Service Providers (CSPs) like Amazon Web Services offer storage and analytics capabilities to chip design companies to apply AI and ML models for systematic data processing. They also provide the necessary infrastructure to integrate IoT and implement Industry 4.0 solutions for smart and connected manufacturing .

4. Improved Collaboration, Transparency, and User Productivity

The semiconductor manufacturing industry is highly competitive, and the success or failure of a chip manufacturer entirely depends on the ability of the manufacturer to collaborate effectively with an  eco-system that includes suppliers, OEMs, and internal teams for design reviews, feedback, and testing.  Cloud infrastructure provides a centralized system to track the productivity of the different stakeholders, enabling transparency and boosting efficiency, especially in the current times of COVID 19 using collaboration tools such as MS Teams, Google Workspace, and Google Meet.

5. High Operational Efficiency  

Unlike on-premise data centers managed by internal IT teams with constraints on skill, availability, and resources,  cloud infrastructure is managed by specialists such as GCP, AWS, and Microsoft. These service providers have made huge investments in R&D, infrastructure, and resources, and provide service-level agreements which ensure uninterrupted operations for semiconductor foundries.

6. Higher Service Levels Due to Better Availability

One of the primary reasons for the semiconductor industry to not adopt or scale cloud has been the business criticality of its operations. However,  modern-day CSPs provide SLAs that comply with industry requirements and, in some cases,  go beyond to ensure reliability. For example, GCP provides a robust architecture with high-bandwidth connectivity across 25 regions and 76 availability zones to deliver global services.

7. Organizational Agility and Flexibility to Scale-up 

The use cases for sensors, chips, computing, IoT, and Industry 4.0 are ever-increasing. It is thus imperative for the semiconductor industry to be extremely agile and offer unmatched on-demand scalability and flexibility to ramp up/down its compute infrastructure to accommodate R&D, design, testing, and validation of GTM activities. Analytical capabilities to draw insights and make quick decisions must also be in place in order for the industry  to deliver on its reputation of being agile. Cloud offers all these capabilities to the industry and at the same time drives home the cost benefits, security, and efficiency.

8. Backbone for Driving Innovation

There are several aspects of cloud infrastructure that can drive innovation for the semiconductor industry. To begin with, it can provide a leeway for the industry to squeeze in cost efficiency to a perceived rigid cost structure. The possibilities of leveraging IoT, AI,  ML, big data analytics for gaining visibility, and driving efficiencies throughout the chip manufacturing value chain are tremendous. It can provide EDA support, high-performance design, HPC, and High Volume Manufacturing (HVM) capabilities that will enable  better outcomes at lower costs.

9. Cost Efficiencies

Cloud offers instant scale and capabilities to perform and execute operations across the semiconductor value chain from design to yield without investing in physical on-premise data centers, reducing infrastructure development costs. It provides a collaborative infrastructure for value chain stakeholders to review and test the designs and offer feedback irrespective of the location of the stakeholders. Chip manufacturers can also drive the cost efficiencies on account of improved uptime owing to predictive maintenance capabilities and the security that cloud infrastructure offers.

10. More Secure Environment for IP Protection


The semiconductor industry powers a host of other industries, and several of these industries manage data categorized as highly sensitive, IP, business-critical, or compliance-driven. The dedicated investments by the CSPs in ensuring the security of their cloud infrastructure is an added advantage for the semiconductor industry to ensure data and IP protection for its clients. These CSPs provide more secure and reliable infrastructure at lower costs than the on-premise setup. For example, Google’s global-scale infrastructure protects billions of users with world-class security.

In Conclusion

The semiconductor industry has been a pioneer in enabling digitalization across industries. With Industry 4.0 and IoT gaining prominence, the use-cases of semiconductor chips have evolved rapidly from device-specific applications to sensorization, integration, and communication areas.

However, the irony of this industry is that despite being the transformation catalyst for all the other sectors to adopt digitalization, the industry on its own has been lagging when it comes to the adoption of technologies such as cloud computing for cost optimization, innovation, and streamlining operations. According to KPMG, even when most other technology industries have been adopting digital transformation at a rapid pace of 89%, the adoption rate of the semiconductor industry remains at a paltry 50%.

Considering the outlook for the semiconductor industry, utilizing the cloud for digital transformation is the only way the  industry can scale and position itself to meet  consumer demands for speed, accountability, security, innovation, and reliability.



2021 Rethink: Achieving Digital Transformation at IPG Without an Army of Data Scientists

Jai Sundararaman - IPGIntertape Polymer Group (IPG) is undergoing a digital transformation, and it’s doing it without an army of data scientists and data engineers, revealed IPG’s Vice President of Business Transformation, Jai Sundararaman, during the MLC’s 2021 Rethink Summit this week. Instead, the company is rolling out its digital analytics platform by doubling down on process engineers and its operational excellence team.

When IPG, a producer of packaging and protective solutions with 27 manufacturing plants around the globe, began its digital transformation journey about three years ago, it quickly became apparent that, despite a plethora of articles on the topic of M4.0, there is no proven industry playbook companies can take off the shelf and implement, noted Sundararaman. “Success is hard-earned and based on experimentation,” he added.

The first thing the company did was to make a capital investment in its digital transformation, based on broad-based support from its operations leader, CEO, CFO, and board, “Which is critical,” stressed Sundararaman. IPG investigated more than 15 analytics platforms, with help and input from data from the MLC as well as advice from other MLC members. While no one platform is going to work for everyone, he noted that the MLC network had helped IPG shape its thought processes in these initial stages and determine which platforms to take on a pilot run.

The next investment was in talent. “It’s about rescaling and upskilling the talent, as well as establishing what we call the Digital Process Center of Excellence,” he added. “Our mantra is, ‘We believe in empowering employees with technology’…people are going to learn and grow as part of the process.” This means that the company didn’t double down on analytics per se. “We doubled down on our continuous improvement and process engineering. My team are the subject matter experts on the process side, and they work along with IT and OT specialists and the Continuous Improvement team, all of whom have a dotted line relationship with the plant teams. So when they go into a plant, the process is streamlined. This enabled us to get commitment for the resources as we scale across the plant.”

While IPG is still in the early phases of scaling analytics around multiple plants and executing pilot programs, it is already seeing success. “We have noticed the ROI is less than two years, which we’re very proud of,” said Sundararaman. Its work in centralizing management systems has also proven to deliver successful ROI. Still in the early phases are projects around augmented reality, virtual reality, and 3-D printing, though those also look promising.

One key to success thus far has been how IPG is leveraging analytics through process excellence. “It starts with a mindset, and commitment, and cultural enablers,” he said. “It’s not going to happen in one shot.”

Because success is not guaranteed, you must also be willing and able to embrace failure along the way, he advised, and learn from those failures to move forward. Don’t be too quick to come to a standardization mindset either, he noted. The technology continues to evolve, so the journey will be ongoing.

“The most prudent thing is to focus on what will create business value,” emphasized Sundararaman. “The value is critical. It’s not Step 5. It’s Step 1 through 5. We have been very meticulous in terms of our approach to where value creation will be, how we engage the different partners, and how to capture that value as we go on through the process.”

And you have to be willing to take risks, he added. There are tools, methodologies, and some pointers and guideposts along the way, “but you have to figure it out and then take a leap of faith.”


Rethink 2021: Reimagining the Art of the Possible

“We are in the midst of great change,” declared David R. Brousell, Co-Founder, Vice President, and Executive Director of the Manufacturing Leadership Council (MLC) in his opening speech at the MLC’s 2021 Virtual Rethink Summit today.

“It requires us all to reimagine the art of the possible – to expand our visions, to adapt, to devise new strategies, and to orchestrate change,” he said. “How well you transition to the digital model of doing business will be key to the competitive posture of your company and, as a result, our industry as a whole.”

Reflecting on the massive global disruption of the past year, Brousell noted that the COVID-19 pandemic’s impact on manufacturing has not only been profound but, in many areas of activity, has also led to permanent changes.

“Who could have imagined that as a direct result of a worldwide pandemic, Manufacturing 4.0 would suddenly arrive at an inflection point in its history,” he added. “Spurred by the crisis and the consequent need for greater flexibility and agility, manufacturing companies began accelerating their investments in digital technologies and the changes necessary to fully exploit them.”

Brousell cited the latest MLC survey research which confirms that 54.8% of manufacturing companies believe COVID-19 has increased management’s focus on digital transformation. Powerful majorities also report that many of the COVID-driven changes will now become permanent elements of their leadership approach. For example, 68.2% say that new disaster preparedness plans, resiliency strategies, and response teams will become permanent features in their companies. Likewise, 57.3% say that more collaborative, cross-functional organizational structures will take root. And 62.2% expect remote working by both leadership teams and employees to continue to be part of everyday life.

“More and more,” he predicted, “the digital model of doing business will sweep through other functions of the manufacturing enterprise – sales, marketing, HR, service. With manufacturing operations leading the way, the rest of the manufacturing enterprise will digitize.”

“So, open your minds over the next three days of Rethink and imagine a better future for manufacturing,” Brousell advised the hundreds of Rethink Summit virtual attendees. “Now is the time to think big about manufacturing.”


At Schneider, ‘Small Steps’ Led to a Lighthouse

Schneider Electric’s Lexington, KY, plant is one of only a handful of manufacturing facilities in the U.S. that enjoys the coveted status of being a World Economic Forum-designated “Lighthouse” factory. To achieve that distinction, the Lexington plant, built in 1957, had to address some very basic operational issues.

In a presentation yesterday at Rethink, the Manufacturing Leadership Council Summit conference, Kenneth Labhart, North America Innovation Leader at Schneider, said that one of the issues that had to be addressed was the plant’s inability to share data from the plant floor that could be used to improve operational performance.

By adopting M4.0 technologies and approaches, including IoT, cloud, mobility, and analytics, the Lexington team focused on transforming the facility’s connectivity and integration platforms to break down silos and allow its teams to share data more easily. Those transformation projects have already resulted in a 26% reduction in energy spend, mean-time-to-repair reductions of 20%, the elimination of paper processes, and a five percent reduction in downtime.

The initiative was part of a smart factory program that began in 2017. Today, 80 Schneider factories have deployed a digital transformation roadmap.

But Labhart was clear that the company’s digital transformation had its challenges, chief among which were employee pushback, executive leadership buy-in, and expertise in digital technologies.

Schneider was able to overcome these challenges using a careful approach. “It is very important to take small steps,” Labhart said.


Rethink 2021: Learnings from Next Generation Manufacturing Leaders

What draws the next generation of leaders to a career in manufacturing?

Next-Generation Leadership PanelWhile the specifics may vary from person to person, it’s the challenge, and the satisfaction, of seeing a product through from design to being in the hands of satisfied customers in the best, fastest way possible while continuously learning all along the way, according to members of the Next-Generation Panel session at the MLC’s 2021 Rethink Summit this week.

The three 2021 Manufacturing Leadership Award Winners on the panel — Kat Duggan, Coatings Business Learning Leader at Dow; Kasia Karimee Garcia Bracho, Supply Chain Lead at IBM; and Katia Valenzuela, Communications and Design Association, MxD — had so much enthusiasm for their chosen career path that the audience at the virtual event couldn’t help but cheer them on.

Duggan said her experience so far has “really been a joy,” while Valenzuela added, “It’s such a wonderful, innovative world…it was like [I discovered] a treasure trove of opportunities I didn’t even know existed within manufacturing.”

To thrive in that continuously innovating world as it moves into the future, next generation leaders will need some hard and soft skills that perhaps their predecessors did not, such as how to quickly analyze data to make critical decisions, let go of past traditions, and have the flexibility to be open to new ideas, new tools, new technologies, and the new M4.0 culture. Future leaders, they said, must be open and empathetic, able to listen and contribute back to their communities, and able to collaborate with all the people on their teams.

To attract the next generation of leaders, manufacturers also need to ensure that their workforce, especially at the upper echelons, are diverse. As Valenzuela said, “It’s very important to see people who look and act and think like you do in positions of leadership, not just because they bring their own diverse set of perspectives, experiences, and knowledge, but also because they can give someone like me a role model to look up to.”

Bracho also emphasized the importance of fostering a culture where everyone feels welcomed and respected. “Let’s be active and proactive” when it comes to hiring from the outside and promoting from within, added Duggan.

Sustainability is also important to the next generation, they added. New technologies such as blockchain can increase transparency and trust in a company’s ability to maintain standards at every stage of manufacturing. While local or global regulation may drive some sustainability efforts, consistent consumer pressure is ultimately what’s going to change business attitudes and how money is spent.

Bracho cited an IBM survey of more than 414,000 people in nine countries that found environmental responsibility to be a key factor for consumers. “The trend toward sustainability is growing, and it’s something that companies should focus on,” she said.

As to what we’ve learned from the pandemic? Digital is going to be the biggest winner for manufacturing, they said. And with that increasing focus on digital technology comes adaptability, flexibility, a culture of continuous improvement, and the need for an increased focus on cybersecurity.

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