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Digital Manufacturing’s Holy Grail Is Within Reach

by Simon Jacobson  |  February 6, 2019  |  Submit a Comment

The “Holy Grail” is a world of smart, interconnected, digital, integrated, autonomous, and automated factories.  An ecosystem anchored by solutions that are rich, robust, dynamic, and scalable.

Seems simple and easy, right?  No.  Not really.

Now for the good news:  The energy and passion buzzing the market is contagious.  Today’s digital opportunities for manufacturing operations are not episodic.  The “art of the possible” is now very very real.

The interest in radically changing interfaces between processes, expertise and data to enable visibility and key decisions continues to (re)capture attention and interest from corporate executives and technology decision makers.  93% of the respondents in Gartner’s 2018 Digitization of Manufacturing Operations said that manufacturing operations plays an integral role to their organization’s digital supply chain strategy.  Our clients responsible for their company’s manufacturing strategies are being asked to reconfigure production’s contribution to customer value and increase organizational competitiveness.

It’s an awesome opportunity but not that simple.  Nothing is “out of the box” anymore.

The term “digital” is a galvanizing bandwagon to hitch many initiatives to but it doesn’t alleviate the relentless pressures to optimize costs, overcome the lengthy backlog of technology and skills investments, and the persistent labor versus automation tradeoffs.  Organizations also struggle to manage the differences between “going digital” and “being digital”. Although the thick barriers or conservatism and experiential bias are giving way to infectious enthusiasm and a willingness to explore, pilot, and operationalize new ways of working rewriting the rules isn’t too easy.

This shouldn’t imply that the “holy grail’ is out of reach.  Nearly half of the survey respondents are either piloting or implementing their strategies, while a third of them are still knowledge gathering, investigating, and developing their strategies.

My colleagues Rick Franzosa, Kamala Raman, Sam New, Mike Dominy , and I just published the 2019 Manufacturing Operations Strategy and Performance Primer.  Our 2019 agenda is designed to help companies meet these challenges (ahem, opportunities) head on through practical guidance, examples of success, and lessons from failure. These span balancing digital expectations (which can range from implementing workflow based systems to sophisticated AI schemes), to fundamentally redesign of supply networks, or confronting the intricacies of orchestrating, improving, and mainstreaming manufacturing activities on global and local levels.

The “Holy Grail” of manufacturing is still within reach.  We look forward to engaging in the dialogue.

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Simon Jacobson
Research VP
19 years at Gartner
19 years IT Industry

Simon Jacobson is a Vice President in Gartner's supply chain research organization and covers manufacturing operations. Mr. Jacobson advises clients responsible for manufacturing strategy and performance. His research helps clients develop transformational roadmaps and implement their strategies for smart manufacturing and Industrie 4.0.. Read Full Bio

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