Digital transformation & Industry 4.0 for manufacturers

Industry 4.0 has created new possibilities for every role in manufacturing.

Industry 4.0 promises better data, less waste, and more visibility into the full value stream for process engineers. It means new tools and new sources of information for making processes as efficient and profitable as possible.

But implementing a digital transformation requires consensus across an organization. While process engineers tend to be amenable to new technological solutions, they might encounter resistance along the way. For process engineers, successfully enacting a digital transformation requires demonstrating value and building consensus across the hierarchy.

It’s a long journey from the identification of a technological need to a successful deployment. Process engineers can make it a reality if they advocate their position effectively. Here are four ways process engineers can accelerate the digital transformation of their factories.

1. Get buy-in from the whole organization

Digital transformations fail when businesses aren’t aligned on strategy and outcome. Indeed, CIO identifies lack of focus, lack of executive sponsorship, and resistance to change as some of the greatest blockers to a successful transformation. Here, process engineers can play a critical role in articulating the vision behind a digital transformation across a business’s structure.

Process engineers work with both shop floor associates and management/stakeholders. Whether checking in with workers on the lines or reporting results, they’re between business outcomes and the processes that bring them to life. Therefore, process engineers are in a unique position to garner buy-in from all levels of an organization.

This involves understanding what motivates different roles. It’s understandable when operators worry that new technology will complicate processes that already work. Process engineers can explain how better data will lead to better process visibility, which ultimately will help reduce operator effort and make day-to-day work more efficient. If management worries about ROI, process engineers should focus on concrete business cases and results. What this entails, at heart, is understanding the stakes for those around you and communicating the benefits.

Process engineers that create a common vision behind a digital transformation will be more effective in the long run.

2. Advocate for the tools that will let you do the most

Digital transformations are also likely to fail when they’re deployed in a piecemeal fashion. Uneven transformations increase the risk of data silos and avoidable integration challenges.

To solve this, process engineers should advocate for technologies that will give them the most functionality and flexibility from day one. Building an IoT infrastructure is a good place to start. This creates a foundation for data analysis projects and more complex integrations. Modular, customizable solutions like manufacturing app platforms also give engineers the opportunity to solve multiple manufacturing problems without creating “pockets” of technology.

Getting it right the first time is key. So start simple, with a concrete use case in mind, and focus on early wins. It’s important to understand how technology can be expanded later to avoid creating silos. Several top research firms advocate beginning with pilot projects and expanding after creating value.

3. Learn to think through new technologies

Industry 4.0 has confronted engineers with a dizzying range of new technologies. For engineers to pick the best tool for their operations, they need to understand the capabilities of new digital technologies.

In other words, they need to learn to think through new technologies.

An example helps to understand what I mean here. Before smartphones, people communicated by telephone and shared their experiences through photo albums. Now, we take pictures of our daily experiences and communicate through various media-rich applications native to the smartphone. We see the world differently–we can see new things–because smartphones have primed us to see new things in the world.

Similarly, new manufacturing technologies enable process engineers to find new opportunities for process improvement, new adjustments to workflows, and new patterns in data that weren’t visible before.

To get the most out of a digital transformation, process engineers should consider how the technology will change their relationship with work. For example, how IoT-connected devices will change the way they think about their existing processes. They might consider how a connected worker will change how they measure production and set standard times.

Digital transformations are about mastering the art of the possible.

4. Keep sight of the human

As much as technology has come to dominate conversations about manufacturing in the 21st century, humans are and will remain, central to the industry. The biggest research firms agree: they aren’t going anywhere.

For a process engineer looking to accelerate digital transformation, humans should remain central to their vision. Many seemingly futurist of manufacturing technologies still work best when they augment human operators, not replace them.

In many ways, this point is an extension of the last. The more that process engineers can envision technology as empowering operators–from digital work instructions to IoT connected tool tracking to machine changeover–the more effective their efforts will be.


Technological change happens fast.

Five years ago, few manufacturers saw the value in moving their data to the cloud. Now, cloud storage is a widely accepted solution for handling the massive quantities of data the modern factory generates.

Process engineers have a vital role to play in Industry 4.0. They can be a guiding force in digital transformation and spearhead initiatives to bring their factories into the future.

Tulip helps process engineers power their digital transformation. Start building apps for your processes with a free trial today.