Trade shows and conferences have been ramping up and are nearly back in full swing. That’s a good sign for the industry and great news for people who have an insatiable curiosity about what’s out there.
Naturally, I perked up when a moderator at a recent show asked panelists to comment on digitalization and automation in manufacturing and how they were managing it.
A statement from one panelist in the precision motion and automation space (David Holm, vice president of manufacturing at Aerotech, Inc.) sums up an echo that’s currently reverberating across industries: “Aerotech, traditionally, would operate on mechanical and air bearing systems. We had our niche and we would focus on the manufacturing process or the inspection process at hand. What our customers have been demanding much more from us—not just in terms of our traditional motion capabilities—is that they’re starting to push the boundaries of how we do things.”
Holm continues: “For example, we used to move a part underneath a fixed laser. And now, using light manipulation technology, we actually move the laser instead of the part that’s being manufactured. It’s fair to say that 80% of the people in this room are impacted by that technology.
“They just don’t know. And, and not only that, but our customers are expecting us to understand the upstream and downstream parts of the manufacturing process as well. So, we’re being asked to understand how to handoff from a system that we did not manufacture and be able to understand that. The employment of automation engineers, and investments in those areas, are something we’re definitely focused on.”
Holm made his point at the Epicor Insights 2023 event in Las Vegas. All the same, his finger-on-the-pulse statement centered on industry data and how best to sense issues along the supply chain could have been stated at Automate 2023 in Detroit, or Hannover Messe in Germany.
One takeaway from Holm’s experience is that adoption of new industrial technologies—automation, robotics, software and AI—lead to their intersection and, by extension, new profit pools. Another alludes to the impact: What we are doing to keep up with the rate of change.
A best practice was offered by another panelist: “You have to marry the technology and the technological tools with the process improvements, as well as the organizational cultural change. Just putting the tool in place by itself is not going to drive innovation. Technology can provide a framework or a foundation to potentially drive transformation. But adding process improvements and making organizational change through the human component and the cultural shift—that’s really the secret sauce.”
What’s the real takeaway? Really, it depends on what any business hopes to gain from digital transformation. But for those who are recalibrating processes and refocusing the entire business around digital technologies and advanced automation, long-term success means remaking the meaning of value.
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