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Seven Tips toward Successful Digitalization Projects

Critical success factors & first steps on the road to digital production
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Manufacturing companies are challenged to examine the digitization of their production. Only the right approach and competent implementation partners will enable them to merge the industrial and digital worlds and thus secure and expand their competitive advantage in the long term.

Digital manufacturing systems continue to play an important role in the context of Industry 4.0 (the smart factory) & IIoT (industrial internet of things); they have established themselves as production control and optimization authorities. This guide gives you an orientation on how to make your digitization project a success.

# 1   Clearly define requirements

At first glance, this step is simple, yet it proves highly complex and crucial for success: You must consider what resources, processes and unique selling points you already have available in your company and what goals you want to achieve through digitalization. A comprehensive needs assessment at the beginning is essential in order to define clear requirements and specific use cases. Existing processes must also be put to the test and, if necessary, adapted to the new challenges and goals before the first digitalization measures are taken.

Far too often, industrial companies fail in their efforts because they pursue unrealistic expectations and sprinkle the ” digitalization watering can” over the entire value chain.


# 2  Provide resources

Harmonizing the production environment and digital processes requires in-depth know-how. Real digitalization measures prove most effective when the ‘islands’ within a company converge. Project implementation demands specialist resources from various divisions of the company along with sufficient time allocation.

Our experience has also shown that involving the workforce early in the planning promotes acceptance and reveals the opportunities that arise for the company and the employees.


# 3   Do not reinvent the wheel

To ensure success, it pays to rely on norms, guidelines (e.g., VDI) and scientific papers as well as proven technological standards, instead of constantly reinventing the wheel.

In addition, the best-of-breed approach (especially for peripheral systems) and the know-how of specialized partners let you build powerful and holistic systems. Not all the modules of a digital factory must come from a single source, but a promising manufacturing platform should act as a central information hub, linking or orchestrating the entire production-related system landscape.

Standardized communication and unrestricted networking along the entire value chain, which is necessary for digitalization measures, leads us to the buzzword IIoT (Industrial Internet of Things). With established communication standards such as OPC UA and web services, important foundations have already been laid for standardized data acquisition, even with heterogeneous machine parks.


# 4  Ensure uniform data to valid information

Important in this context are not only the continuous and extensive collection of data of all kinds, but also their standardization and processing to valid information that is provided promptly in the right granularity, at the right place, for the right person.

Modern MES solutions or a Manufacturing Execution Platform assume responsibility as a central data hub and form a unifying layer across all relevant systems. The credo here is standards instead of custom programming.

The open interface and communication level enable coordination of the entire shop-floor IT: In addition to proven standard processes, future technologies, agile applications, in-house developments and third-party programs are combined and orchestrated with minimal programming effort to pave the way toward digital production.

Targeted data analyses and reliable key figures in real time ultimately provide a valid basis for decisions on continuous improvement processes. BI tools offer flexible possibilities to perform systematic and user-specific analyses and evaluations, e.g., to identify and visualize cause-and-effect principles and derive appropriate measures.

The essential thing here is to master the balancing act between the enormous amounts of data from different systems and their customized processing for a decisive information advantage from management to worker.


# 5  Detect synergies and exploit synapses

Efficiency is a major tenet of efforts toward Industry 4.0, the smart factory. To really achieve this efficiency, we must look beyond the horizon and find points of contact along the entire value chain. Interaction among information carriers from various business sectors creates completely new perspectives. This holistic view can generate true added value.

Early identification of optimization potential or potential disruptions via predictive analytics (i.e., predictive analyses based on artificial intelligence) will create even more opportunities in the future to generate knowledge from the enormous data volumes of modern production systems.


# 6  Stepwise implementation

Not every company can and will utilize the full range of digital production optimization services from the very beginning. The path to this goal is continuous and builds on step-by-step development. Note that not everything can be implemented at once in a digitization project; however, it is important to stay on the ball and to drive the development toward the smart factory step by step but steadily.

In addition to standard processes and solutions, emphasis should also be placed on extensive customization options that fully meet user requirements. Low-code development and engineering options offer great potential here, so that future requirements of a modern production management system can be met with speed and agility within software standard.


# 7  Choose the right partner

When you choose a digitalization and software provider, you need a partner on board who understands your production processes and takes the entire value-added process into account, while also focusing on the integration of human factors in the production process.

Enablers who are familiar with both the industrial and the digital world and who can merge these two ideally, know what is important in digitization and accompany the customer from the first step to ongoing operation.

In addition to technical expertise, another key factor is decisive when you choose a partner: consulting expertise in the planning and implementation process — and on par with the customer.

Efficiency is one a primary tenet of smart factory efforts. Only a holistic view of the value chain can generate true added value.

A comprehensive needs assessment at the beginning is essential in order to define clear requirements and specific use cases. Existing processes must also be put to the test and, if necessary, adapted to the new challenges and goals.