Advances in digital technology and the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) have fundamentally changed manufacturing.

Over the past decade, manufacturers have increased the use of smart technology and automation in their plants. And many have leveraged the convergence of information technology (IT) and operations technology (OT) to enable a secure flow of data throughout the enterprise and supply chain. 

This information integration provides access to real-time data and consolidated analytics across every level of the organization – and makes insights that were previously hidden in production environments visible.  

Boosting Performance 

Some manufacturers are already realizing sizable performance gains through the Great Digital Transformation. For example, connectivity and digitized processes allow companies to: 

Share information among production assets – streamlining operations. 

Alert staff to impending equipment breakdowns– enabling predictive maintenance and improving uptime.

Digitize mistake-proofing to address quality problems before they occur – reducing defects and associated costs.

Coordinate production data with component and material suppliers – improving inventory efficiency. 

Facilitate demand-based production planning – enhancing manufacturing responsiveness.  

Through digital transformation, companies have reduced lead times and defective products by as much as 50 percent, reduced capital expenditures by up to 30 percent, lowered inventory levels, increased on-time delivery and more.  

The Journey to a Connected Enterprise

Certainly, digitization can improve decision-making and deliver tangible business value. But the path to digital transformation – and a truly connected enterprise – can be a challenging undertaking. 

In fact, while the volume of data generated by smart manufacturing assets has dramatically increased in recent years, only about 25 percent of industry currently uses the data proactively. Clearly, many organizations have not yet embraced digital transformation.

So how can a company bring a connected enterprise to life to better utilize data and improve business outcomes? 

At Rockwell Automation, it’s a journey we have taken ourselves and that we embark on with our customers each day. 

Our own journey ultimately established a unified Ethernet IT/OT network infrastructure across 20 global manufacturing facilities, enabling new opportunities to access, monitor and capitalize on operational, business and transactional data across the enterprise. 

Using our Manufacturing Execution System (MES) and Enterprise Manufacturing Intelligence (EMI) software, we standardized processes across all production sites. The combined MES and EMI system brings information from hundreds of applications into one centralized location. It gives workers understandable and actionable information they can use to make improvements, and enables real-time analysis of key performance indicators, such as quality. 

Over a two-year period, we rolled out our new system to 95 percent of our facilities. And we are committed to continuously improving our efforts in step with ongoing developments in advanced analytics and other technologies. 

Lessons from the Journey 

Fundamentally, digital transformation exploits IT/OT convergence to connect processes, technology and people in new ways. It is a journey that will impact everything from production processes, hardware and software to human interactions and company culture.   

Through our own experience – and that of our customers – we have learned that evaluating corporate readiness for digital transformation and charting a manageable time frame is critical. 

Keep in mind, our own connected enterprise journey was part of a decades-long effort to enable better decision-making using enterprise data. Increasingly, we recommend that our customers begin with a pilot project in a given process or plant – and then extrapolate the learnings and benefits of that experience on a broader scale. 

A measured approach to digitization not only enables better control and risk management, but also allows stakeholders to experience the merits of a connected enterprise incrementally. These stakeholders can become effective project ambassadors as improvements are rolled out across other areas of the organization.   

Digital transformation is about bringing real-time data together to inform business decisions. And for many manufacturers, it is an evolutionary process that delivers revolutionary results. 

To learn more about Rockwell Automation and The Connected Enterprise in western Pennsylvania, contact Chris Zemba, cmzemba@ra.rockwell.com, 330.998.5493.