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Roadmap towards smarter factories: how to get started

Factories, plants, and mills are now looking into smarter operations through better processes and technology, as well as human capabilities. The need for more sustainable businesses increases the pressure to get started ahead of the competition. But what are the first important steps that pave the way towards smarter future?

1. Start with an internal change team

The first thing to consider is the time you have versus the time you need. Transforming your factory is a long process, and you need to have a solid team with defined roles to lead the efforts throughout the entire company. No journey is ever the same, as companies are different in terms of maturity, structure, and client base, and that’s why there needs to be a stellar internal understanding and driving force in place.

And while you can’t outsource transformation, getting an outside view from external consultants is crucial – they may see something you have missed. The first steps should always include assessing your internal and external resources to figure out attainable goals that create concrete impact.

“The change of deep-rooted workflows always brings out resistance. Internal change agents are crucial in setting common goals and acting as glue between people. They should also act as the contact point for external consultants, who bring valuable insight and wider perspective to support the transformation,” Etteplan’s Technical Manager Andreas Ring points out.

2. One roadmap to rule them all – don’t forget unit-specific plans

The challenge of transforming your factory does not lie in details like modern sensors, equipment, or any physical items rather than getting a comprehensive status view of your process. It is good to have a company level roadmap to guide the big picture forward. Additionally, each key unit of the manufacturing process should have their own as it is far too easy to lose sight of the day-to-day when focusing on the high-level vision alone.

Key units like maintenance, quality control, processes, and logistics all have their specific needs and pain points, and it is only smart planning to create a more detailed plan for each to ensure company-wide progress.

“For example, if your company-wide roadmap includes the implementation of connected devices and data used by different units, you need to make sure all relevant business units are on track to support new processes and equipment,” Ring says.

3. No progress without measurements

Through milestones and goals, it is easy to measure and track progress in each key unit. Of course, one of the key telling signs of smart factories is the never-ending loop of constant development and learning, but without setting goals it is very hard to actually create impact.

“If your company is merely at the beginning of your smart factory journey, one viable and very useful goal could be data collection and its consolidation. Of course, you still need to assess the relevant data for your specific case and the technical methods to collect and measure it, but you don’t need to have those answers right away to set the goal,” Ring says.

The transformation towards smarter operations can get too complex if there are no goals to set the course.

“Milestones and goals help your team to stay focused and motivated. Think what you want to achieve and what needs to get done. Setting up an internal change team to research the best possible partners to support your transformation is another great starter goal, as it is a concrete step that needs to be done before implementing new processes,” Ring says.

Etteplan brings together people, processes, and technology to enable sustainable, efficient, and future-proof factories of tomorrow – already today.