Since 1999, Bill has spearheaded the development of Parsec’s manufacturing operations management (MOM) platform, TrakSYS.
I work at the intersection of technology and manufacturing, and every day, I see the evidence and outcomes of a curious truth: Manufacturing tends to lag behind other industries when it comes to software and technology adoption.
Whether it’s powerful, advanced technology like automation and artificial intelligence or the tantalizingly low-hanging fruit of going paperless, manufacturing has not achieved widespread technology adoption and is several years behind other industries.
While certainly interesting, this reality isn’t exactly “news” and may even seem obvious to some. But what is it about manufacturing that makes it harder to implement timely, game-changing technology? All industries face their own unique challenges—so why is technology such a hurdle for manufacturers?
As I see it, manufacturing’s lagging adoption of technology solutions stems from the industry’s complex history, but there are several actions leaders can take to overcome precedent and move forward.
How We Got Here
The crux of the issue of lagging tech adoption can be boiled down to a single word: time. Manufacturing activities occur at every hour of every day, with incredibly narrow windows of downtime. Plant managers already have so much on their plates, making it incredibly challenging to proactively allocate time toward vetting and installing new technology.
Why is production a perpetual operation? It’s not just for fun—it’s imperative. Our pesky, best-in-the-animal-kingdom brains have given humans an unquenchable thirst to invent and iterate. We have engineered incredible products. Even seemingly simple items, like pencils, are meticulously designed with specific materials and production requirements. Our cars, tech gadgets and consumer goods continue to get more advanced and sophisticated, and consumers can’t help but demand them. Manufacturers can’t help but meet this demand; otherwise, they risk business extinction.
Today’s manufacturing consists of incredibly complex operations. Business leaders aren’t unaware of their facilities’ shortcomings and the available technology that could optimize production, but they may believe the downtime required to install new tech and—if one only operates off past experiences—reconfigure an entire facility would be prohibitively expensive. In many manufacturers’ views, the least-worst option that lets them meet demand is constant (albeit un-optimized) production.
This thinking is understandable, but it is based on the manufacturing tech of yesteryear, which was cumbersome to implement and guaranteed to disrupt workflows. However, the advancement of modern tech has introduced things like no-code/low-code solutions and development environments, while cloud storage has made solution implementation much smoother. But manufacturers may still be—albeit reasonably—skeptical and hesitant to take a risk when their business is on the line. Placing a bet on new, advanced tech can feel like a leap of faith that many leaders might not be willing to take.
To meet demand, manufacturing plants are in near-constant operation. Leaders know that advanced tech solutions could unlock much-needed optimizations, but they don’t want to risk incurring presumed downtime. And so, the pattern repeats. But this doesn’t mean manufacturing is doomed as a category! Are there challenges? Yes. Are they insurmountable? No. There is plenty of hope and ample low-hanging fruit to harvest.
The Way Forward
Before any business can hope to improve its process efficiency, it must be able to clearly identify any shortcomings—and quantify them, if possible. If you routinely fall short of quota, by how much are you falling short? If you experience costly downtime every day, how long does it last, and during which production steps? These insights will help leaders not only fully grasp the situation but also set a benchmark for future success.
With a detailed understanding of potential areas for improvement, leaders can move on to the next step: starting small. While there are many tech solutions on the market that can unlock wholesale business transformation, there are also options for narrower, more incremental improvements—which may be easier to manage for businesses unaccustomed to advanced technology. Starting small will set organizations up for success, ensuring teams can acclimate to the change and control the scope of potential troubleshooting.
From there, it’s about taking sustainable steps. To ensure any new tech implementations have staying power and drive long-term success, manufacturers should pace themselves. Trying to bite off more than they can chew could lead to prolonged outages, costly downtime or unhappy and confused employees. Leaders should consult closely with system integrators and plant managers to strike the right balance and set themselves up for continued success.
Tech Opportunities Abound For Manufacturers
Many manufacturers have a complicated relationship with technology. They know efficient, accessible solutions exist that could dramatically improve their production, but they don’t have the time or resources to thoroughly research, test and implement. Manufacturing is an incredibly complex industry, and it has its fair share of challenges—including the constant imperative to produce, produce, produce.
To remain competitive in today’s high-tech market, however, manufacturers should chase whatever incremental wins they can—whether that means finally going paperless or simply researching digitalization options. The first step in exploring the modern, high-tech possibilities of manufacturing is doing whatever you can to prop the door open.
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