‘Digital’ – its role in society and especially in business – is the major development of the twenty first century. But within the business world, it’s clear that ‘digital’ and particularly the disruption it causes mean different things to different organisations. For retailers, it has transformed the service delivered to shoppers, while for financial services digital has meant the widening of the sector with a new stream of digitally-native entrants suddenly appearing on the scene.
Within manufacturing, digital transformation has been revolutionary in the way business themselves operate. Our recent Fit for Digital research found that for the majority of businesses in the manufacturing sector, digital disruption means the “digital transformation of business operations and processes.” For manufacturers, digital technologies like the Internet of Things (IoT) can be used to transform the business, creating savings and improving processes, often at enormous speed.
A fantastic example of digital transformation in action within manufacturing is Fujitsu’s work with Meggitt. Meggitt is a global engineering group, which specialises in creating extreme environment components and sub-systems. From its base in California, the Meggitt Polymers & Composites division manufactures carbon fibre composite parts for aerospace and defence. These parts require careful monitoring and tracking to ensure the production of high quality components for aviation.
Meggitt faced two challenges in its plant. Firstly, the company needed an improved and automated system for tracking the manufacturing process from raw materials to finished goods. This would provide real-time visibility over the manufacturing process and enable Meggitt to make early, proactive and business-impactful decisions rather than trying to fix issues retrospectively.
Secondly, the carbon fibre materials used in Meggitt’s products had to be stored in environmentally controlled conditions. The handling of the material was incredibly important to the firm’s daily operations, and the carbon fibre material had to be kept in freezers to preserve their quality. Any manual handling errors would lead to significant quality issues and wastage costs totalling to hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Finally, creating continuous improvements around customer satisfaction and experience while driving operational efficiency was key to the project.
One of the core components to achieving Meggitt’s goal was incorporating the Fujitsu GlobeRanger IoT platform into its manufacturing operation. GlobeRanger’s platform can integrate a huge variety of IoT sensors into the workplace environment. In this case Radio-Frequency Identification (RFID) tags and readers were introduced into the manufacturing process. GlobeRanger relies on iMotion and GR-AWARE software: the former gathers, filters and processes data from sensors and devices creating a vital interface between the business and operations, while GR-AWARE creates new processing rules, notifications and real-time alerts. Combining the two provides real-time visibility that immediately highlights areas of concerns enabling corrective action, but also identifies potential areas for improvement and value creation.
The solution incorporated quick thinking and innovative technology. Placing RFID readers throughout the manufacturing process was an ingenious way of tracking RFID tagged parts movement. The RFID tags could then transmit data back to the system, sending information back to the business. Each individual process was logged step-by-step from the arrival of the material to the completion of an individual product. The information was not only practical to business operations but it enabled managers to see every single minute of the work process as it happened.
When it came to temperature, the technology was implemented in a very similar way. The material was tagged and tracked, much like the workplace. The software could then send reports on the out-of-freezer time, telling managers if the carbon fibre was nearing expiration, and immediate alerts would prevent any costly loss of product. It’s vital to track the temperature and expiry of each individual roll to ensure the high-quality of each product is consistently met. GlobeRanger made this possible for Meggitt.
The intrinsic nature of Meggitt’s complex work is a simple reflection of how technology is forcing, and enabling, businesses to operate with digitally-driven structures. Just like how Meggitt must maintain the correct temperature for all carbon fibre material, a business must too find a way to meet the demands of the globalised business world which is being led by digitally native ideas. Amazon continues to transform the retail market, Uber completely revolutionised the transport industry and, well, who’s to say Meggitt cannot do the same for the manufacturing sector.
Not only is digital technology transforming how companies run their daily operations but it is creating new ‘digital arenas’. These represent a shift away from long-established verticals like retail or manufacturing, towards broader potential markets. As the lines blur, businesses must act fast, be agile in their processes and scale upwards to stay ahead.
Preparing for the impact of digital is now more important than anything else. Digital transformation is no longer a choice; it’s here now and impacting businesses around the world.