Transformational Thinking

Oct. 12, 2016
  What's critical to a successful digital manufacturing transition.  

The word "transformation" is fast becoming overused in this era of digital manufacturing. The problem isn't that we're not living in transformational times. We are. Rather the danger is that too many business leaders will use the word too casually or push their "transformation" too hastily, without truly understanding the mindset change that's required.

As a longtime trend tracker, I can recall how many complex era-defining ideas were boiled down to their most simplistic interpretations--to the point where they were not only ineffective, but damaging. Remember how the dense tomes of the quality gurus were reduced in so many companies to lame attempts at "quality circles"? Or how new ideas in the book Re-engineering the Corporation were diminished to an excuse for massive "downsizing?" Or how the practice described in the book Lean Thinking was picked apart and implemented piecemeal, while half--the "respect for people" part-- was largely ignored?

I get it: Big ideas are hard to quickly digest, so busy executives, under pressure to produce results, latch on to a small piece and run with it. For the cynic in all of us, such efforts seem to be nothing more than attempts to fool others that company leadership "gets it." (Isn't that why "Dilbert" is so popular?)

But don't let this happen with your digital transformation.

To avoid half measures in the transition to your digital future, you'd do well to heed the advice of EOS founder and CEO Dr. Hans Langer, a pioneer of additive manufacturing. It's not about simply installing a new piece of equipment or a new technology, he insists, "It's a question of mindset. It's a question of what you do with such a technology."

He explains that he's seen companies that use the exact same additive manufacturing machine, but experience widely different result
s. The unsuccessful companies, he notes, tend to respond conventionally. For example, they try to make an existing part with additive manufacturing. To that Dr. Langer declares: "For additive manufacturing there is one rule: If you have a conventional part, please do not try to copy it with additive. You will fail."

"I think it's key to find the right applications," he adds.

The successful companies, he says, take care to deeply understand the process taking place within the additive manufacturing machine, to understand the materials and how they are changed in the additive manufacturing  process, and then to rethink their production process to identify where the new capabilities can, well, transform the business.

Though Dr. Langer's advice is targeted to leveraging additive manufacturing technology, the same principles hold true for adopting other breathtaking digital technologies--or for that matter new business approaches. Succeeding with a true transformation requires a team with a mindset willing to imagine approaches not tethered to conventional manufacturing.

Keep that in mind to ensure your digital transformation is worthy of the words.

About the Author

Patricia Panchak | Patricia Panchak, Former Editor-in-Chief

Focus: Competitiveness & Public Policy

Call: 216-931-9252

Follow on Twitter: @PPanchakIW

In her commentary and reporting for IndustryWeek, Editor-in-Chief Patricia Panchak covers world-class manufacturing industry strategies, best practices and public policy issues that affect manufacturers’ competitiveness. She delivers news and analysis—and reports the trends--in tax, trade and labor policy; federal, state and local government agencies and programs; and judicial, executive and legislative actions. As well, she shares case studies about how manufacturing executives can capitalize on the latest best practices to cut costs, boost productivity and increase profits.

As editor, she directs the strategic development of all IW editorial products, including the magazine,, research and information products, and executive conferences.

An award-winning editor, Panchak received the 2004 Jesse H. Neal Business Journalism Award for Signed Commentary and helped her staff earn the 2004 Neal Award for Subject-Related Series. She also has earned the American Business Media’s Midwest Award for Editorial Courage and Integrity.

Patricia holds bachelor’s degrees in Journalism and English from Bowling Green State University and a master’s degree in Journalism from Ohio University’s E.W. Scripps School of Journalism. She lives in Cleveland Hts., Ohio, with her family.  

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