Digital Technologies Transform Life on the Plant Floor

Guillaume Vendroux, chief executive officer of the DELMIA brand at Dassault Systèmes, discusses the key challenges that manufacturers face in implementing digital transformation across their operations and the benefits that will accrue to their labor force.

Guillaume Vendroux is chief executive officer of the DELMIA brand at Dassault Systèmes, whose 3DEXPERIENCE platform helps global businesses reimagine their engineering, operations and planning for manufacturing excellence. Customers can design and test in a simulated production environment and, once complete, efficiently plan, produce and manage all resources from staff to production to customer delivery.

IndustryWeek spoke with Guillaume on the eve of Dassault Systèmes’ Manufacturing in the Age of Experience event. We asked him about the key challenges that manufacturers face in implementing digital transformation across their operations — as well as the benefits that will accrue to their labor force.

Question 1. What are the key challenges that you see manufacturers facing as they transform to a digitalized program of activities?

Guillaume Vendroux: The first challenge is to redefine the ways of working — from streamlining to standardization, across a global approach, and leverage the digital transformation that is being pursued. It is about having as global an approach as possible, because today manufacturers are looking for global optimization and not local optimization. Streamlining is a means to achieving efficiency, while standardization opens the door to the benefits of automation.

The second challenge is training because when you carry out such a transformation, you have to provide people new technical skills in order for them to live in that new world that you are defining. But that is the easy part. The larger issue is that digital transformation will position people differently in the company and their roles will change. So they, and in particular middle management, will need to understand that their role will evolve — beyond being somebody who is valued in the organization because he or she owns information. Tomorrow, in the digital world, we are going to share information. So the manager is not the person who owns the information; he or she is the facilitator to the execution and capitalization of that information in order to produce results. It's a totally different way of positioning people, and usually on the shop floor that raises a lot of questions.

Guillaume Vendroux

The final challenge is how to sell this approach and change within the organization and to the different teams. There are two aspects to managing this change. First, you need to be inspired — by your boss or the leader of your functional department — and not by IT people. You need somebody from the business — the CEO, COO, someone high up in the sphere of command — championing this new way of working as one that will provide value. Only s/he can articulate the value of such a transformation and explain why it will benefit the organization across time. And so the focus needs to be strong through the duration of the transformation, which may be a long period of time. Often times, there are problems because everybody starts the project with a lot of enthusiasm, and as time goes by people become less involved and at the end of the day the project fails. This is because there is a lack of focus. So it must be business-focused over the full duration of the initiative.

The second key to success in managing change is to be able to scale the ambition according to the maturity of the company. This requires company leaders to be able to properly assess where the company stands, how much change it is able to take, and how many steps are needed to bring the company from where it is to where it needs to go. Favor quick, but small increments of improvement in order to be able to promote change on a long-term basis — more like continuous improvement — and find ways of scoping the project so that value can be demonstrated quickly.

Question 2. What are the benefits of digital transformation for people on the plant floor?

GV: The answer is very simple: they are going to have better, more interesting jobs. First, the digital world is going to provide them with autonomy through access to information. Information should be available for all those who need it, which is a massive change for those on the shop floor. Previously, they were given information, piece by piece, by the boss. In tomorrow's world, they will know where they stand, their performance, and the performance of their upstream and downstream colleagues. That will increase the engagement of the workers and the team in general into that digital transformation.

The second thing that digital transformation provides is the ability to impact and improve execution using analytics, artificial intelligence, and other tools. Having access to the information in a format that you can understand and act upon allows you to have a sense of responsibility in the way you are behaving as a professional on a day-to-day basis.

Finally, there is automation — both physical, such as machines and robots, and processes. For example, key steps of the business process can be automated so workers are freed from ordinary tasks; and instead, the work involves intervening at various points where workers can add value to the process. This addresses repetitive or unsafe tasks — all those that previously were necessary for humans to perform because we had no other way of doing it. So the job will be more interesting because there will be more autonomy, more impact and action, and better focus on the added value.

Question 3. What are some of the ways that technology is reducing, or has the potential to reduce, the repetitive nature of human tasks within the manufacturing environment?

GV: With respect to repetitive tasks, everything that relates to automation will be susceptible to disappearing. But it has to be truly repetitive because, if you have a lot of tasks that are similar but not identical, automation is not possible. Again, when I refer to "automation," I am talking about both physical and business processes. So, from a physical automation standpoint, highly repetitive tasks such as lifting a part, moving a part, and assembling it can be automated by machines, robots, or cobots — which are the new generation of robots designed to interact directly with humans.

But I am also talking about the non-physical tasks — steps in business processes such as writing down the name or the number of a part on paper or in a computer because, otherwise, that information might be lost. This is another repetitive task that needs to be eliminated because it is easy to eliminate. It is easy to automatically read a tag or device with IIOT — and you don't need to have somebody sit for half the day putting parts one way or another based on color or some other factor. That is clearly one of the key sources of efficiency that can be tapped into when you go digital, and in doing so, you will not deprive workers, colleagues, or professionals because this is not where they are best used. This is actually a help to them — to be able to focus on where their brains, knowledge, and ability are most needed.

Question 4. How does today's technology add to human creativity and the potential to improve manufacturing and product development processes?

GV: The idea behind digital transformation is to model our industrial world on the computer as accurately as possible. Then, we can play around, investigate, and try to find new ways of doing things. And we can check that those new ways of doing things are actually going to deliver the value that we expect at the end. So it is because we have this "magical sandbox" — the computer and the model we are creating — that we can totally unleash creativity in finding new ways of doing things. So actually the digital world provides the means of being really creative.

This is something that we at Dassault Systèmes think is the difference between our approach and that of our competitors. Not only can you do all the what-if scenarios and simulation, but the 3DEXPERIENCE platform will actually allow you to experience those new ways of doing things through all the means of the technology that are available today. This will allow you to physically be sure of what you have designed.

Usually, innovation or creativity relates to developing solutions to difficulties or problems. In that respect, digitalization is a great help in identifying the proper issue and therefore focusing creativity on the problem. Going digital on the shop floor allows you to capture all the data that characterizes what happens on the shop floor, which means that at every point in time you have perfect visibility and understanding of what is going on. When you see at the end of the day that the system is not performing exactly the way you expected, you can go back to your data and understand where the problem came from.

Characterizing problems with appropriate sets of data to understand the truths — what happened on the shop floor — is the first step in being able to provide efficient and innovative solutions. How does digital transformation unleash creativity? First, by characterizing the problem in such a precise way that the doors are open to finding factual solutions to the problem. Second, it provides a wonderful lab of opportunities and possibilities to investigate and validate all the possible ways to improve the business and industrial processes that we want to optimize.

Question 5. Building a skilled workforce for the future — and concerns of a shortage of qualified people — is one of the most pressing issues manufacturing companies face today. What steps do you think companies should be taking today to ensure that they can provide training and education and attract qualified workers?

GV: Obviously, manufacturing has been around for a long, long time. In the 1980s, 1990s, and 2000s, it was not always viewed as a very attractive world because it was considered the low end of industrial activity. The aristocracy designed the product, and the workers would build it. Today, if manufacturing companies want to have good people coming to manufacturing, it has to become more attractive for them. The way to make it more attractive is to show that there is technology, know-how, fun, and creativity in the manufacturing world. In that sense, the digitalization of manufacturing is a way to provide the image of a modern domain in which things need to be reinvented, and people can be sure they will have a very long, interesting professional life.

As far as training is concerned, that wonderful "sandbox" that digitalization can provide within the computer to simulate or experience what life could eventually be like on the shop floor — that type of approach is also very well-fitted for training. If you need to train people, you can do it the old, inefficient way: put them directly on the line and they will learn as they execute, which probably will mean that they make occasional mistakes and efficiency is lost. Also, they will need to be managed or coached before they reach the desired levels of competence, knowledge, and efficiency.

The new way, again leveraging the digital world, is to teach them their jobs digitally. Why not show them an immersive environment — for example, the operation they need to perform, how to position this part with respect to this other part, etc.? We can totally simulate what they need to do. We can take them by the hand, step by step, and at the end of the day we can ask them to replay the sequences of things digitally to make sure they have understood. So while it may not bring them to the ultimate level of competence, it will at least allow them to be effective on day one to a certain level of competence and efficiency.

Question 6. Are you optimistic about the future of manufacturing? Why or why not?

GV: Obviously, I am very optimistic. I think if you look at product engineering — that is, how to define a product and its capability — we can unleash a number of new services. From the customer's perspective, they are going to have richer services delivered to their doorstep.

I think the future of manufacturing involves changing the business model not only to be able to provide improved performance, but really a new way of doing things. Take the example of Amazon. For me, what is amazing about Amazon is not providing an online catalog — because another company could do that — it is their ability to get products to you, from the mouse-click to your doorstep, in a matter of hours. This is operations, not design. Amazon can do this because they went through the industrial revolution of streamlining their processes, executing differently, and putting people in the middle of things so they can focus on the critical tasks and make things go faster.

So what we see in Amazon on the supply chain side can be duplicated and extended to the global world of operations, in which the supply chain is only a small part. The scope of possibility is immense. Thus, I have strong confidence that the future of manufacturing is very bright, and the revolution is just starting.

TAGS: Talent
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