When it comes to digital transformation, is there a way to ensure that all manufacturers have an equal opportunity to focus on digital initiatives – regardless of their size? A panel at Rethink: The Manufacturing Leadership Council Summit examined the different challenges faced by small and medium enterprises on the industry’s journey to Manufacturing 4.0.
The panel featured Val Zanchuk, President at Graphicast; Chuck Wetherington, President of BTE Technologies and SMM Chairman for the NAM Board of Directors; and Irene Petrick, Senior Director of Industrial Innovation at Intel Corporation.
The most obvious challenge comes from resources. As Zanchuk said, he is often limited by the three T’s: Time, Treasury, and Talent. “I try to keep up with the pace of understand what’s going on with the latest digital tools, and identify the opportunities that make sense for the business.”
“M4.0 is not a rote prescription, it’s a toolbox,” Wetherington said. “We are moving digital technology down to where the work is being done.”
Petrick said that the digital divide isn’t only because of size, but also because of investment choices. “If you weren’t doing a lot of investments in digital over time, then you are behind – it’s not a size issue, it’s an investment issue.” Petrick added that companies who have not been making those continuous investments are behind, especially after COVID.
Cybersecurity is also a concern, not just internal to a company but also as an ask from customers. “The customer base has to be able to look at us and say we’re in good shape, to be comfortable working with us,” Zanchuk said.
Wetherington added, “Every company needs to be worried about cyber and needs to make efforts to be secure. The problem isn’t how good your defense is, it’s whether or not the bad guys want to get at you.”
So how can a small company, or any company, keep from falling into the divide?
“You have to stay on top of understanding technologies,” Zanchuk said. “Lean mentality fits well with 4.0 mentality, but we don’t use every tool in the Lean toolbox. I’m always scanning the technologies to understand it and translate it down to my scale.”
It’s also a matter of people, not just technology. “Hiring and retaining talent will continue to be an enormous challenge,” Petrick said. “Investing there will yield much more value than ever before.”