The benefits of a digital shopfloor


Hitachi Consulting’s vice-president of innovation, Jonathan Gray discusses the value of digital shopfloor operations in the aerospace sector.

In the aerospace industry manufacturing excellence usually means product innovation; as the returns from incremental innovation increase, savvy manufacturers are looking at bringing innovation to the manufacturing process itself.

Integrating digital into the production process is vital to retain an advantage and can act as a catalyst for improvement at every level of an organisation. The benefits to an industry, where even the smallest improvement to operational standards, could mean millions of pounds in efficiencies. Digitising the shopfloor, not just product lines, brings business benefits as it:

  • Provides people with all the information they need to quickly make their own decisions to complete their daily work, on-time at quality

  • Reduces the need for active supervision to solve basic issues. In addition, reducing manual reporting time would probably give supervisors back a day a week to coach their people and improve their processes

  • Avoids the use of paper and workarounds by incorporating the right capability into existing systems, leveraging tailored apps in industrial strength solutions

  • Embeds your Lean system in your operational systems to create a seamless link for the training, methods and tools to improve performance to manage deviations

  • Connects cross functional teams through integrated performance management systems, operational plans, shared priorities and actions/escalations

  • Provides real-time, high-quality data allowing early warning and prediction of issues, making it possible to devise proactive responses rather than firefighting immediate problems.
Building systems for the people

New technologies must be delivered in a manner that optimises the user experience and creates even greater value, rather than becoming a hindrance to the people working on the ground. The mantra must be “build systems built for people.” These changes will create a new way of working, so they need to be fully understood and applied to people’s roles, with clearly defined competencies and behaviours to drive the benefits of the digital solution.

Jonathan Gray
Jonathan Gray

Many companies in the aerospace sector have failed in this regard. Modern aerospace manufacturing facilities rarely operate in silos; they are part of a complex global supply chain where disruptions and decisions taken in one line or site can have a knock-on effect on the rest of the supply chain. To help manage this complexity, most companies have implemented ERP technologies, but many fall short of the real needs. Product design technology is also common place, with Product Lifecycle management (PLM) applications seamlessly translating complex drawings into Bills of Material (BOMs) and Manufacturing Execution Systems (MES) systems connecting machines to provide performance visibility across production lines. Yet many of these technologies come up short in the eyes of the people who actually do the work. The result is that despite big investment in digitisation, many manual management techniques still exist, with workarounds to core systems and business units extracting data and manipulating it to get a picture that is closer to reality on the ground.

To counteract these issues and to maximise the benefits of digitisation, Hitachi Consulting has developed an experience suite. Its success comes from having operational conversations with people who really understand the workplace environment. By understanding the real people involved in the process, and what they require, a team of User Experience (UX) specialists can design the ideal ergonomic solutions to solve the operational needs. These digital solutions are then refined in workshops with the individuals impacted. From our experience this iterative process creates buy-in and ownership, speeding up the change journey.

Empowering the shopfloor

All digital solutions should be designed to empower the people who actually do the work in the quickest and best way possible, not simply give their supervisors more control over them. Effective digitising strategies use business intelligence to simplify the information flow to the individual. It says: What questions do you need answered?” The system will give you the answers, so you don’t need training. In a wider sense, the aim is to change the way of working, to accelerate performance and generate greater autonomy. Digital itself won’t do that, but it can be a real catalyst for it. Repositioning digitisation around change management is therefore critical to producing real business value.

For the last two years, Hitachi Consulting has successfully delivered digitised operational improvement for a major aerospace group. The project involved deploying a standardised way-of-working with shopfloor change management, achieving consistent improvements in productivity and cost-of-non-quality across much of their operations.

Taking a technology agnostic and operations-focused approach, a proof-of concept was launched to create a cutting edge digital experience for one area of operations. To deliver this, operators, team leaders, supervisors and support functions were consulted to co-design a digital version of core elements from their existing operating system, deployed in a touch-screen, multi-device environment.

These core elements included real-time manufacturing process management at operator, team and line levels, with standard operating instructions delivered digitally. Support requests, escalation and delay prevention activities for production and supporting functions were integrated into a SMART Performance Management System. The SMART Performance Management System with Intelligent Analytics provided appropriate information and analysis for decision making and continuous improvement at each level of the organisation.

This proof-of-concept not only provided the operational value of digital shopfloor operations, it also demonstrated how bringing digital to the shopfloor engages and excites everyone involved. Previously challenging concepts, which created little buy-in from the operational teams, were readily accepted in digital form. As a result, the company was able to re-energise the continuous improvement of its operational performance.

This successful proof-of-concept has led to the wide scale acceptance of a digital shopfloor future, with the client confident that they will deploy a global solution that is fit-for-purpose, accepted by everyone that will use it on a day-to-day basis, and as a result deliver the performance and financial benefits they expect.

Creating an optimal digital user experience won’t just improve performance on the shopfloor, it will be the catalyst for improved performance at every level of the organisation, creating capacity and increasing focus on truly value adding activities. When applied correctly, digitisation will mean that everyone now has the opportunity to do their job to the best of their ability.

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