Manufacturing AUTOMATION

Are Canadian manufacturers ready for the future of digital manufacturing?

September 11, 2018
By Jennifer Rideout

Photo: XtockImages/iStock/Getty Images Plus

September 11, 2018 – In Manufacturing AUTOMATION’s May 2018 issue, the results of the annual Canadian Manufacturing Study were revealed. Initially, as a professional in the IT industry, I was thrilled to see manufacturers prioritize IT investment. Twenty-five per cent, 17 per cent and 11 per cent of you, respectively, plan to invest in bridging the IT/OT gap, the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) and cybersecurity best practices over the next three years.

Considering the resource challenges most of you face, these figures are a massive win. Score one for the good guys.

Then I read the results of a recent Capgemini study titled “Digital Engineering: The new growth engine for discrete manufacturers.” Capgemini surveyed more than 1,000 senior executives from global manufacturers (unfortunately none from Canada) to understand how digital technologies are, or are not, transforming how they operate.

The contrast between the studies was startling. The results should be concerning to all Canadian manufacturers, because when you break them down, it just doesn’t look like we are prepared to compete in the future of digital manufacturing.

  • Canadian Manufacturing Study: Seventeen per cent of manufacturers plan to invest in the IIoT and digital transformation over the next three years.
  • Digital Engineering survey: Manufacturers predict close to 50 per cent of their products to be smart and connected by 2020.
  • Canadian Manufacturing Study: Six per cent of manufacturers are currently using big data and analytics solutions.
  • Digital Engineering survey: The most successful manufacturers are using technology to analyze and put into action 93 per cent of the data they produce.
  • Canadian Manufacturing Study: Eleven per cent of manufacturers plan to invest in cybersecurity best practices over the next three years.
  • Digital Engineering survey: Seventy-two per cent of the most successful manufacturers, and 60 per cent overall, are leveraging cybersecurity solutions to promote a culture of innovation.

The reality is – and it’s been said before – that Canadian manufacturers fall well behind their global peers (and competitors) in technology adoption. The reasons for this are well known and valid. Our manufacturers need more government programs and support; we need better alignment between education institutions and businesses; and often these technologies are expensive and require specialized skills to operate. But the data doesn’t lie. The fact remains that as Canadian manufacturers struggle to adopt advanced technologies, competitors outside of our borders are using them – and we need to catch up.


So how can Canadian manufacturers prepare for the future of digital manufacturing? Here are three suggestions:

1. Invest in different kinds of talent.
The Canadian Manufacturing Study identified the availability of skilled labour as the number one barrier to a manufacturer’s future competitiveness. This is for good reason, as fewer students are entering programs essential to factory operations. But it is time to look beyond the floor to talent with non-physical skills such as cybersecurity, software and data analytics. These skills are what will help manufacturers improve their digital capabilities, optimize results and benefit from advanced technologies. Don’t believe me? The Capgemini study predicts these hires are expected to grow up to 50 per cent globally by 2020.

2. Focus on using the data you are already collecting from your machine and connected devices.
Previously, I wrote a column that cited this statistic from the IoT World Forum: just 26 per cent of IoT projects are considered a complete success. Two of the biggest factors contributing to the high (perceived) failure rate of IoT projects are scope and follow-through. Often, companies define a scope that is too large to accurately track and measure the data collected; they also often get excited about the bells and whistles of connected devices without investing in the analytics required to turn that data into actions. Instead of starting a new, or large, IoT project, Canadian manufacturers should focus on understanding the data they are already collecting and how that can be used to optimize operations. And if your factory doesn’t use any connected devices or sensors, a small pilot is the best way to understand how the IoT can impact your factory environment.

3. Create a digital vision.
According to the Capgemini study, 92 per cent of successful manufacturers have created a digital vision and roadmap to monitor progress. For Canadian manufacturers to catch up to global peers, they need to create a digital vision that clearly articulates why their organization is adopting digital technologies. What does becoming a “digital manufacturer” mean to you? Why is it important that everyone in your company embrace these changes? What will it mean for your customers? For your employees? With an established digital vision, manufacturers will be better equipped to make the right technology decisions for their operations.

Jennifer Rideout is the manufacturing marketing manager for Cisco Canada. She is responsible for developing go-to-market strategies for the manufacturing sector in Canada, including channel alignment and content development.

This article originally appeared in the September 2018 issue of Manufacturing AUTOMATION.

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