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Everything old is new again: implementing your smart factory strategy

We’ve all been hearing about the incredible promise smart factories hold for manufacturers. From leaps in capacity utilisation and a rise in production output to jumpstarting labour productivity, the smart factory represents a radical and critical new competitive driver. And a radical new driver clearly needs a radical new process of implementation, right?

Well, yes—and no.

Though there are nuances, smart factory implementation really doesn’t have to differ all that much from the way many transformations worked in the past—that’s according to Deloitte’s upcoming report, Smart Factories 2.0, which interviews manufacturing professionals who’ve embarked on their own smart factory journeys. These executives are witnessing how smart factory strategies are unfolding on their factory floors right now. To them, a successful smart factory implementation could depend on understanding what processes shouldn’t change—and those that should.

So let’s talk about what hasn’t changed. Just because we’re dealing with what once seemed like science fiction—robots, artificial intelligence, computer learning—doesn’t mean the rules of organisational life no longer apply. Any successful project would adhere to well-established implementation principles and a smart factory is no different. These include:

Having an overarching, holistic vision can keep any large-scale transformation on track. Just as important, it can prevent a rush to install cool, new tech that doesn’t serve a longer-term vision or drive towards a larger goal—a particular danger given all the novelty of smart factory technology.

Identifying one predominant driver can serve as a north star to guide decision-making. For example, worker safety or improved productivity offer clear outcomes that can steer the move to a smart factory.

Just as project sponsorship at the top is essential, so are champions at the deployment level. They’re the ones that get the overarching vision but also have the credibility on the store floor to overcome the doubts that can come into play when dealing with something as cutting-edge as smart factory technology.

Cross-functional representation—engineering, information technology, supply chain, production, finance, HR—can reduce the probability that important controls, processes and cultural elements are not missed. This is all the more critical given the very newness of the technology that enables a smart factory.

Don’t “drop” new processes onto a shop floor without ongoing support. Stick around to ensure staff understand the need for—and value of— something new or they’ll just go back to what they know.

It would be a mistake, however, to deny that implementing a smart factory doesn’t present its own set of unique challenges. A smart factory reimagines the functioning of a factory via connections and networks and a nuanced approach will be required (how to do that is the topic for a future blog and one the report discusses in detail).

For now, though, if you’re a manufacturer looking to find a way into the smart factory journey, it should be reassuring to know that getting started doesn’t necessarily require sweeping, new thinking. And given the value smart factories represent, simply getting started could be the ticket to a competitive edge.

To learn more about Deloitte’s smart factory insights, see our 2019 Deloitte and MAPI Smart Factory Study. Be on the lookout for our report, Smart Factories 2.0, launching January 2020.