We often hear that, when taking first steps on the digital transformation journey, manufacturers should start small, build on successes, and then expand the vision once results and credibility have been established.

This  seems like prudent advice. After all, digitization often involves the implementation of new, relatively untested technologies, and leads to profound process and organizational change. Therefore, we’re often told, it’s best early on to reduce risk by narrowly defining the scope of digitization projects, focusing in incremental improvements, and leaving messy change management for later.

No brainer, right? Not so much, says Kimberley Hagerty, Industry 4.0 digital manufacturing transformation manager at Pratt & Whitney. Hagerty, a former chief master sergeant in the U.S. Air Force, is now neck deep in planning the aerospace manufacturer’s transformation to a more connected, digitized future.

And Hagerty, who spoke last week at the Society of Manufacturing Engineers’ Smart Manufacturing Seminar Series in Los Angeles, says companies undertaking this transformation must be clear from the start that M4.0 means profound change and that everyone in the organization—from executives to workers on the plant floor—will not only be affected but will be expected to become advocates for the change. This message, and the change management that goes with it, shouldn’t be ignored or deferred, says Hagerty.

“Digital transformation is exponential change. It’s not a two-day kaizen,” says Hagerty.

While manufacturers pursuing digital transformation do need to plan and scope projects responsibly so that they build on one another, Hagerty says, it’s important to first  create an architectural roadmap that links back to company strategy and to understand that digital transformation ultimately will lead to profound process change, not just incremental improvements to existing processes.

And manufacturers must be prepared to embrace that process change. “If you’ve been doing the same thing in the same way for three years, you should probably throw it away and start over,” says Hagerty. “That’s how fast businesses are changing.”

Pratt & Whitney, for example, is taking a comprehensive approach in envisioning its digital transformation. The company wants to transform the end-to-end manufacturing value chain—from customer demand to product fulfillment and field support—by building digital models of physical products, processes, equipment, and plants that it can use not only to monitor process status and performance across all the plants in its network but also to predict problems and perform what-if analyses on process changes.

This will allow Pratt & Whitney to understand in real time when a problem has occurred. It will also allow the company to understand the ripple effects across its network that result from the problem and the proposed fix.

“When a machine goes down in Pennsylvania, we need to know immediately what’s been done to fix it, and what the impact on the rest of the value chain will be,” says Hagerty.

Pratt & Whitney’s plan to build integrated digital models—or digital twins–of its products and production environment in order to quickly spot problems and optimize performance is similar to an approach being taken by a competitor, General Electric. 

With a long-term vision and strategy in place, Pratt & Whitney is initially focusing on digitally transforming its manufacturing environment. Hagerty’s team is starting by defining and documenting existing manufacturing processes as well as the desired future state. Hagerty’s team then will target for transformation legacy systems that pose barriers to P&W’s ability to achieve its M4.0 vision.

“We have to replace siloed solutions and current systems that constrain our management and our business,” says Hagerty. “Too often we end up manipulating data in spreadsheets.”

As Pratt & Whitney steps through that process, says Hagerty, the company is continuing to hammer home the message that everyone in the company is expected to be an advocate of exponential change.

“Everybody on the plant floor needs to be bought into the need for change and to believe that they are doing digital transformation,” says Hagerty. “If you’re not there, you’re doing it wrong.”