How to integrate smart manufacturing—3 top tips from GKN

How to integrate smart manufacturing GKN

German manufacturing is going smart. Not satisfied with a global reputation for efficiency and reliability, Industry 4.0 has incentivised many German and multinational businesses to replace traditional manufacturing with smart manufacturing techniques. The goal of Industry 4.0 is to make manufacturing more efficient and reduce waste through interconnectivity of machines on shop floors. By adopting digital tools and connecting machines, employees can make better decisions based on real-time data to predict and prevent bottlenecks before they happen.

However, transforming a traditional manufacturing processes can be challenging. A survey revealed that 88% of manufacturers believe that the industrial internet of things (IIoT) is an important trend and 62% believe it’s critical to their success. However, 66% of respondents do not have a strategy to deploy and use the technology. 40.4% of manufacturers have no visibility into the real-time status of their manufacturing processes and 8% of manufacturers spend half their day simply searching for equipment and products. If one part of the manufacturing process is wasting time, the workflow is paused and can cause delays to the completion of a product. These small time wastages and losses of productivity soon accumulate to become significant annual costs.

Paul Mairl, Chief Digital Officer at GKN, shared with me how GKN has implemented smart manufacturing techniques across their shop floor—to get a step closer to the goal of Industry 4.0. As with any large business, it can be difficult to integrate new processes because you need to convince the rest of your company of its value. Paul explains 3 ways to successfully integrate smart manufacturing into your business and add value:

  • Align leadership to trigger behavioural change
  • Don’t focus on technology—focus on the value you get from it
  • Base decisions on data

Align leadership to trigger behavioural change

Aligning leadership is crucial if you want to integrate smart manufacturing techniques into your business. Research shows that to digitally reimagine a business requires a clear digital strategy supported by leaders open to change and new approaches.

Paul says, “Don’t even start this [smart manufacturing] if your leadership isn’t aligned. If your leaders are still asking for Excel or PowerPoint and not using data to drive decisions, it doesn’t make sense to start a big data analytics project.” 

Once leadership is aligned, they can help initiate a behavioural change across the organisation—creating an environment where employees understand the value of data and smart manufacturing. This is the approach that Paul took at GKN.

“You always have to trigger a behavioural change otherwise it’s just data. The topic of digitalisation or smart manufacturing is so broad that businesses need to define their own vision and have a clear understanding of what benefits they want to achieve.

You have to show your employees the value of the change you’re implementing and how it’s going to benefit them. 

Paul says, “When you go up to a mountain, you take a picture or paint a picture and show how cool it is to be up there. It’s the same with the Industry 4.0 journey. You have to turn it into your reality and paint a picture about how cool it would be if we had a shop floor without supply chain and manufacturing incidents.”

Don’t waste time focusing on technology, focus on the value you get from it

Many early stage companies fall into the trap of focusing on technology over strategy, often implementing lots of new technology and losing sight of its real purpose. Digital fluency in an organisation doesn’t require mastery of the technologies. It requires the ability to extract value to help achieve your company strategy. In digitally mature companies, these technologies are being used to achieve strategic ends— improving decisions and innovation. Nearly 90% of them say that business transformation is a directive of their digital strategies.

Paul says, “Don’t waste your time on technology. Technology is not the issue. You need to learn to raise the right questions. It’s not the system or tools, but the problem that needs to be solved and the value that needs to be created. The technology will follow.”

Base your decisions on data

Basing decisions on data can increase productivity and increase profits. A survey by MIT revealed that data-driven companies had 4% higher productivity and 6% higher profits than average. 

Another survey found that 58% of the companies surveyed base at least half of their regular business decisions on gut feeling or experience—often disregarding data, even if they have it. Paul says, “Data-driven organisations are easy words but it’s not that simple. People like data when it supports their opinion. If it doesn’t, then they don’t like data.”

When IBM sold part of its ROLM division to Siemens, an IBM employee was tasked with creating an internal report. The report predicted that selling to Siemens would be a failure. IBM’s executives forgot the research had been commissioned and acted on gut instincts—a decision that cost the company over one billion dollars.

Paul says, “Data-driven means every decision is based and shaped by data…There is no sense in saying we do IoT and have connected machines. So what? The important thing is we take real-time data and bring it into processes to help us improve performance and take immediate action. The benefit is not connectivity, the benefit is that you can act as soon as it is needed and you don’t spend two days pulling together data to understand what’s going on to make a decision. That’s key for our company. We take immediate action when there is a deviation from our targets. We work on a monthly basis so if we spend one or two weeks to collect the data, we are losing two weeks and the month has already gone.”

About Paul Mairl

Paul Mairl, Chief Digital Officer at GKN

Paul is the Chief Digital Officer at GKN Powder Metallurgy and is responsible for setting up their digital strategy in line with Industry 4.0.

Throughout his time at GKN, Paul has been responsible for Lean Enterprise & Business Process activities and delivering a strategy to promote Continuous Improvement & Lean across the division. 

He has led the vision of Program Management from new business through to the start of production. This included supporting the development of manufacturing equipment/facilities, ensuring programs are delivered according to customers’ expectations, on time and to budget, and that programs are launched in line with Best in Class processes and Lean Value Streams.



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