Canadian Manufacturing

How can small manufacturers embrace digital transformation?

by Emily Newton, Editor-in-Chief, Revolutionized   

Manufacturing Small Business Technology / IIoT Electronics digital transformation ROI small manufacturers


An opportunity to grow, rather than a challenge.

Adobe stock by tong2530.

Can small manufacturers embrace digital transformation with limited cost and resources? While digital transformation might seem like something reserved for large corporations, small manufacturers can benefit greatly from integration. It just requires an approach customized for small businesses.

Start with small, low-cost updates

Cost is one of the biggest digital transformation challenges facing small manufacturers. Getting started can seem daunting when many transformation strategies are designed for much larger businesses with more resources. In contrast, 57 per cent of small businesses report digital transformation financing as difficult to some degree.

Small manufacturers need their own approach to digital transformation — one that focuses on starting small and building momentum. Begin with a low-cost, low-risk update. Examples include digitizing back office tasks or switching to a digital filing system. These updates are useful for any business, fairly straightforward and pose a low risk to daily operations.

When it comes to digital transformation with physical tasks, consider working with one automated cell or unit at a time. For instance, a small manufacturer could start out with a single courier robot to use in a pilot program.

Prioritize data and monitoring

Monitoring is crucial for any transformation strategy to be successful. Without tracking the performance of digital transformation updates, manufacturers have no way of knowing if they are getting a good ROI.

Research shows that using hyper-automation and real-time data collection can reduce operating costs by 30 per cent or more. Real-time data allows manufacturers to see exactly how a new strategy or technology is performing.

Hyper-automation and real-time data collection require investments in sensor technologies as well as AI and machine learning. For a small manufacturer, these investments may seem too advanced at first. However, adopting them can help save money, improve performance and future-proof operations.

Remember employee training

Small manufacturers may be nervous about embracing digital transformation because they are concerned about their employees’ readiness for new technologies. This is a reasonable concern since employees can make a big difference in the success or failure of a digital transformation strategy. However, it’s an opportunity to grow, rather than a challenge.

Small manufacturers should build employee training into their integration plans. Training can reduce employee anxiety over new technologies and give them the tools to unlock the full benefits of those technologies.

Training doesn’t need to be long or complicated. It simply needs to serve as a tutorial and an opportunity to answer any employee questions. Remember to include any relevant safety information as well, particularly for working with robots.

Focus on one strategy at a time

Small manufacturers can improve their chances of success with digital transformation by focusing on one update or strategy at a time. Larger companies may be able to implement several new technologies at once. However, large-scale change is typically not feasible or wise for smaller companies.

On one hand, it’s more cost-effective to adopt one new technology and get it well-optimized before investing in something else. This allows the manufacturer to put their entire focus on finessing a single technology and ensuring a good ROI.

Attempting to implement multiple digital transformation updates at once can increase stress and the risk of accidents or errors. As a result, minimizing risk requires honing in on one new update at a time.

Digital transformation for small manufacturers

Small manufacturers can embrace digital transformation by using an approach designed to keep costs and risk low. Start small and focus on one new innovation at a time. Prioritize monitoring the performance of pilot programs before making larger investments. Remember to keep employees in the loop with informative digital transformation training programs.

Emily Newton is an industrial journalist. She has over five years experience covering the industry as the Editor-in-Chief of Revolutionized.

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