At Tulip’s first-ever annual Operations Calling™ conference on September 12th, we closed out a day of insightful sessions with a thought-provoking panel on the future of manufacturing featuring three powerful industry voices: Walker Reynolds, Industry 4.0 Leader at Intellic Integration; John Dyck, CEO of CESMII; and Gilad Langer, Industry Practice Lead at Tulip.

"The Future of Manufacturing is Now" panel at Operations Calling™ 2023, featuring Walker Reynolds, John Dyck, and Gilad Langer.

Throughout the course of the conversation, the panelists dove into everything from their frustrations around Industry 4.0, to misconceptions regarding the lean approach, to insights on why so many digital transformation projects fail.

Here are three key takeaways from the panel:

1. Industry 4.0 Isn’t Living Up to the Hype

When moderator Erik Mirandette, Head of Product and Ecosystem at Tulip, asked the panelists what upset them most about Industry 4.0, the three gentlemen had a lot to say.

Reynolds referenced what he believes to be “incestuous relationships” of vendors within the industry — highlighting that Industry 4.0 should be about solving problems for manufacturers and enabling frontline workers, but it is oftentimes “too much about serving commercial relationships.”

Meanwhile, Dyck called attention to the fact that the launch of Industry 4.0 coincided with a plateau and eventual decline in manufacturing productivity. “Here we are talking about reshoring and frontshoring and regionalizing supply chains, and what do we have?” he asked. “We have pilot purgatory. We have declining productivity… and that’s not sufficient.”

And Langer highlighted the “disconnect” that often exists between the use of technology in manufacturers’ work versus personal lives. “You walk into a plant manager’s office and he’s very proudly telling you about the Tesla that’s parked out there and how he can start remotely and how his iPhone and this new technology, and you know, all the gadgets that you have — and you turn around and look at the plant and you see paper and antiquated technology,” he explained in a theoretical example.

According to Langer, this all boils down to a level of “risk averseness” that prevents manufacturers from being willing to take the first step of learning (and understanding) what the latest technology can do for a plant.

2. There’s a Growing Need to Enable the Frontline Workforce

One common thread that was woven throughout the conversation was around the value and overall knowledge of frontline workers — and how many manufacturers are not currently leveraging this workforce to their full potential.

“If you look at the difference between the most transformative organizations and the least transformative organizations, you can distill it down into one thing and one thing only — and that is how enabled are the frontline workers to solve their problems in service of solving the business’s problems,” said Reynolds.

Dyck added that while manufacturers arguably have one of the most expensive workforces on the planet, many organizations do not equip them accordingly. “We don’t give them the tools — and it really is a function of the complexity of the many siloed stovepipe systems that are arguably there for them to make their jobs easier,” he said, highlighting the need to move toward a more sustainable, smart manufacturing architecture.

3. Digital Transformation is No Longer Optional

As Langer pointed out, the manufacturing industry “is a bit handicapped” when it comes to digital transformation “because we’re engineers” and there’s a widespread mindset in which organizations don’t want to take a step forward before they know everything.

That being said, it’s clear that a wave of change is coming — whether digitally hesitant organizations like it or not. “At some point, people who do not transform or companies that do not transform will be left behind, they will be not competitive, they will… be out of business,” said Langer.

For those taking the first step toward implementation, the panelists spoke to the value of starting small and taking a bottom-up approach. “You don’t have to boil the ocean,” said Langer. “You don’t have to solve everything at once. Just go find a problem and solve it, and show an accomplishment, and show that technology worked for you and then it just keeps going from there.”

It’s clear that this session provided actionable insights and key takeaways for manufacturing executives and frontline workers alike — and there’s more where that came from. “The Future of Manufacturing is Now” panel was just one of over 60 sessions included in Operations Calling 2023.

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