Data. Digital. Done.

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Data. Digital. Done.

Job shops are the backbone of the manufacturing industry. Every day, they make the parts that major industries from aerospace to energy depend on. Job shops keep American manufacturing moving. How? With a lot of grit and an increasing amount of digital technology.

At IMTS 2022, the Job Shops Workshop featured practical, actionable content. One of the panels brought together job shop owners and industry experts to talk about strategies and best practices for taking the traditional job shop digital.

To keep the conversation going after IMTS, the panel reconvened to discuss their experiences with digital transformation.

Tipping Points

Staying competitive is what motivates most job shops to go digital.

That was certainly the case for Pioneer Service Inc., a precision machining shop in Illinois. “Our digital transformation was essential to our survival after outsourcing decimated our business,” explains President and CEO Aneesa Muthana. “We reinvented our shop using digital technologies and went from the verge of bankruptcy to a successful digital shop in less than 10 years.”

Scott Volk, the vice president and COO of MetalQuest, a precision machine shop with locations in Nebraska and Idaho, struggled to find qualified people to fill open positions. His shop went digital to provide necessary support to limited staff.

“We started in 2002 with a new ERP [Enterprise Resource Planning] system, so that I could better manage and use materials,” Volk says. “Then we added machine monitoring. Now, we are using robotics to load and unload the machines, freeing staff up to perform more value-added tasks.”

At Hirsh Precision Products Inc., the digital revolution started in the 1990s with training efforts and progressed through tracking run times and set ups. Under the leadership of President and CEO Peter Doyle, Hirsh is now starting to use digital innovations to address ongoing supply chain challenges.

“Smaller organizations are leading the way when it comes to supply chain data sharing. Data sharing between companies in the supply chain can help strengthen the entire chain,” Doyle says.

Not the Data Police

Changing minds is the first step to going digital for every job shop.

Too often, employees will see digital solutions as attempts to take their jobs. Likewise, data collection efforts may be seen as an attempt to “catch” employees underperforming or “punish” them for low outputs. Job shop owners and managers need to start their digital transformation with positive and inclusive messaging.

In fact, implementing digital manufacturing is primarily a cultural transition, according to Jennifer Herron, CEO and founder of Action Engineering, a firm that coaches manufacturers through digital transformations. She notes that the transition is 25% technological and 75% cultural. Buying digital technologies is the easy part. Shop owners must convince staff to adopt the technology.

“Transparency is key,” notes Muthana. “It is all about your intent. Be clear that you are gathering data not to punish employees but to help them enhance their performance.”

She further noted that when digitization is approached with openness, staff are often excited to adopt new technologies. In many cases, digital tools can even help with recruitment by showing younger prospective employees that manufacturing is modern, not dirty and antiquated.

Next Steps

Start small and start now. That was the consensus among the job shop panelists. Transforming your traditional shop to a digital shop is not an all-or-nothing proposition.

Look at one area where you know you can improve performance and incorporate data collection. That can be as simple as adding a tablet to a machine to track run times. From there, you can think about automating monotonous tasks and increasing communication between machines.

“There is no excuse not to go digital. It is imperative,” Volk says. “Whether you think you need to go digital or not, you do.”

03/11/2022

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