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Decoding Digital – 6 Ideas To Get Started

Digital technology adoption has the potential to improve productivity and broaden profit margins in manufacturing. Here are six solutions for addressing challenges to digital adoption.
Dec 11, 2023

By Noel P. Greis and Benjamin Moses 

Digital transformation, often associated with Industry 4.0, is driving manufacturing change.  Companies are reprioritizing their efforts to adopt digital technologies in their factories and job shops. But getting it right is still a challenge.   AMT – The Association For Manufacturing Technology’s Technology Issues Committee hosted a Technology Summit with the American Gear Manufacturers Association (AGMA) and the National Tooling and Machining Association (NTMA) to address digital technology adoption challenges, among other issues. The committee shared strategies for promoting digital literacy and adoption among small to medium-sized manufacturers.  Here are some common roadblocks and methods to help decode digital.  

1. Challenge: Navigating digital transformation is a daunting prospect — where to start?  

Solution: Develop a plan. More specifically, create a roadmap for digital transformation. Companies need to develop clear long-term goals, as well as incremental steps to reach them. It doesn’t have to be all or nothing — or all at once.  Start with a real business case with clear goals and metrics for success. For instance, you could start with adoption of a new computer vision system to automate measurement on the shop floor — which is then linked to other machines on the shop floor. Continuous step-by-step innovation wins the race. You also need to be (or find) an internal advocate for digital adoption.  

2. Challenge: Lack of awareness about federal and state assistance for digital adoption. 

Solution: Get to know your state MEP (Manufacturing Extension Partnership). MEP centers provide small manufacturing companies with specialized services and access to public and private resources to improve productivity and expand capacity. Last year, MEP centers interacted with more than 33,500 manufacturers, leading to more than $18 billion in sales.  There are centers in all 50 states and Puerto Rico. If you haven’t already connected with the center in your state, you can start here 

Beyond MEPs, manufacturers should also connect with their local governments to ensure they are aware of local business funding opportunities. 

3. Challenge: Addressing cybersecurity while going digital. 

Solution: If you are adopting digital technologies, you must simultaneously address cybersecurity. Connecting machines and moving data and information to a cloud environment means introducing new risks. Integrate security from the beginning. As you plan for digital transformation, also plan for cybersecurity to protect your investments.  

4. Challenge: Understanding the U.S. Department of Defense Cybersecurity Maturity Model Certification (CMMC) program.  

Solution: The CMMC program outlines cybersecurity requirements that contractors and subcontractors must meet to qualify for federal contracts. The program is tiered, meaning that different contractors must meet progressively advanced levels of cybersecurity protection, depending on the sensitivity of the government information they handle.  For many companies, bringing in an outside consultant to help achieve CMMC certification is the answer. The process can be lengthy and involved, and it may be worthwhile to have an outside expert take on this project. 

5. Challenge: Legacy equipment that is not connected.

Solution: Even old machines can learn new tricks. Look for ways to connect your existing equipment.  MTConnect may be a solution. MTConnect is a set of open, royalty-free standards intended to foster greater interoperability between controls, devices, and software applications by publishing data over networks. With uniform data, developers and integrators can focus on useful, productive manufacturing applications rather than translation.  

6. Challenge: Skepticism about data. 

 Solution: This is a valid concern. You can’t trust something if you don’t know where it comes from or why it is being collected. The solution here is a solid data strategy and the personnel to support that strategy. What data do you need? How do you collect it? What do you do with this data? Make sure there is someone in your shop who has the knowledge, time, and commitment to analyze your data and make it actionable.   This information was included in the Technology Summit hosted by AMT – The Association For Manufacturing Technology’s Technology Issues Committee. If you’re interested in getting involved with the Technology Issues Committee, contact Ben Moses at bmoses@AMTonline.org or 703-827-5231. 

Benjamin Moses
Director, Technology
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