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Digital & Technology

Made for Manufacturing: Get things right in the real world, then go digital

To mark the next phase of our popular Made for Manufacturing programme for business leaders, Manufacturing Advisor Nick Brandwood breaks down the relationship between digitalisation, data and manufacturing excellence, using real-world examples from our previous course cohorts.

Our Made for Manufacturing course for manufacturing leaders is now entering exciting new territory. After more than a year of running virtually, our new cohorts will now benefit from a number of face-to-face workshops over the course of their seven-week programme, including two exclusive factory tours in Greater Manchester.

One of these tours will focus on excellence through digitalisation, an element of the programme we haven’t explored much in our previous blogs (which you can find here, here and here).

Made for Manufacturing is all about achieving manufacturing excellence – maximising quality, cost and delivery through good leadership and communication, continuous improvement, and embedding a culture of learning through your organisation.

So far, we’ve taken stock of some the fantastic projects previous delegates have implemented in the real world, from clever portable storage systems to daily workstation reviews. But where does the digital world come in?


The final frontier

Digitalisation (the use of digital technology to capture, connect and transform data to make better business decisions) is the focus of Made for Manufacturing’s penultimate learning module. It’s a crucial step in the journey, because no matter how well you implement manufacturing excellence physically on the shopfloor, you will only ever be as good as your digital environment allows you to be.

There’s a good reason why we wait until the penultimate module before we take on this subject. It can be all too easy to fall into the trap of believing a new ERP system or another fancy piece of software is the answer to all of our problems. But if you jump at it too soon, all you end up doing is digitising your inefficiencies, or worse. As my colleague Geoff Crossley explained in a previous blog: if you drop a new piece of technology into the middle of an imperfect environment, with no thought to the surrounding context, don’t be surprised when the promised gains fail to materialise.

Or, as Bill Gates puts it:

“The first rule of any technology used in a business is that automation applied to an efficient operation will magnify the efficiency. The second is that automation applied to an inefficient operation will magnify the inefficiency.”

Digitalisation projects should only be implemented at the right time, with the right foundations in place, and within the wider context of achieving manufacturing excellence in your business. Culture, communication, and all the other themes we cover in Made for Manufacturing, must come first.

How to prepare for digitalisation

Digitalisation through the lens of lean

It can be useful to think of digital technology in lean manufacturing terms. Lean is all about considering flow through a system; how far materials and people need to travel, how much waiting is involved, where there are instances of over-processing, and so on. Any activity that does not add value to your product is essentially waste to be removed. The same principle applies to the digital world.

Learn the What, What Else and How of Lean

If you cannot eliminate a non-value added activity outright, then automating the process through digitalisation could be the answer – provided the right groundwork is in place.

Here are some real-world examples experienced by previous Made for Manufacturing delegates:


1. Company A: Production planning gone awry

Company A had had software designed for them that should have provided an efficient, digital solution to production planning. However, it never fully worked as intended and didn’t join up with other systems properly. As a result, the gaps had to be filled manually.

The process ‘worked’, but in lean terms there was a significant amount of waste being generated through over-processing (not to mention the constant risk of human error). The Managing Director himself was spending 10-14 hours every week just doing quotations and transposing data, which was a significant underutilisation of his skills (the so-called 8th waste). According to his own estimation, improved software could free up 25-30 per cent of his time.


2. Company B: Filing problems

Company B was struggling with unstandardised, poorly organised electronic file management on its IT systems. In effect, this is the digital equivalent of a poorly organised factory (time wasted searching for the latest version of a document is the same as time wasted trying to find a misplaced tool). In some ways, it is even more insidious – wandering around the workplace in search of something looks and feels like wasted time, but when you’re sat in front of a computer it’s easy to feel like you’re still being productive.

The required remedy in this case was to purchase suitable document management software, and extend the 5S approach to physical workplace organisation into the digital workplace by standardising file naming conventions, folder structures, document version control, and so on.


3. Company C: Untrustworthy stock management

Company C had a stock management system they felt they couldn’t rely on, partly because their stock management process wasn’t optimised before the software was installed. The result was a domino effect of waste. Regular stocktakes were needed to reset the system, items were being over-ordered and the excess inventory was taking up valuable space, as well as making stock even harder to find.

More fundamentally, staff did not trust the system, meaning they would likely ignore it even if it was correct, thus perpetuating a culture of making uninformed, gut-feel decisions.


Making data-based decisions

Do you base your decisions on data or gut-feel? This is one of the biggest questions we ask every Made for Manufacturing delegate. An excellent manufacturer will make strategic decisions based on data-driven insight, or ‘scientific thinking’ as my colleague Nick Brandwood often describes it.

According to research, the vast majority of decision makers at industrial companies in the UK claim to be ‘data-informed’. However, much of this is just ‘digitised’ information stored in disconnected ways across spreadsheets and older systems. In reality, around half only occasionally use data to make decisions, and nearly one in three senior decision makers admit to relying on their intuition all of the time.

Digitalisation is about going one step further than just ‘digitising’ information and leaving it in silos. It’s about leveraging technology to make the most of the data available to you. Without it, data is just data.


Successful interventions

The digitalisation module in Made for Manufacturing is supported by our partners at Made Smarter, who are specialists in helping SMEs get started on their digital transformation journey. With their help, several of our graduates have gone on to make some big digital interventions on the route to manufacturing excellence.

One example is Bridgewater Laminates, a joinery manufacturing business in Salford. When they first spoke to me, they were experiencing connectivity issues between CAM software and the CNC machines, creating a major bottleneck in production.



Made Smarter were able to plan out a solution in the shape of a bespoke piece of software that is expected to increase efficiency by 15 per cent, along with the support of a fully-funded digital intern.

Crucially, this digitalisation project is only one part of Bridgewater Laminates’ wider journey to manufacturing excellence, not just a one-off intervention.

“We've really been helped in terms of our software development. We're now in the process of linking all of our different systems to create a seamless route to manufacturing for a product and the work the Made Smarter did with us was crucial to that.”

Aiden Berry, Managing Director of Bridgewater Laminates

Read Bridgewater Laminates' story

Get inspired

To showcase digital transformation in action, we look forward to welcoming future Made for Manufacturing cohorts on a tour of Crystal Doors in Rochdale, which is employing digital technology to drive its award-winning environmental sustainability.

Delegates will also visit Atec Engineering Solutions in Salford, an exemplar in maximising productivity through manufacturing excellence.

If this has sparked your interest in starting your own Made for Manufacturing journey, enquire about our next cohort today.  

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