If your blue collar workers cannot see the difference, and you're just implementing technology, they will not stretch themselves for the boss having another bigger car. No one is interested in the wealth of the CEO.

Joachim Hensch
Founder, Joachim Hensch Consulting

In a recent installment of the Augmented Ops podcast, we had the unique opportunity to hear from Joachim Hensch, the mind behind the digital transformation of Hugo Boss's largest production site in Izmir, Turkey. The episode, entitled “From Tailor to Technologist: A Digital Transformation Journey,'' sheds light on Hensch's path from a tailor working with a one-piece flow production process, to a digital transformation leader in the apparel industry. His story serves not just as an inspiring journey, but a blueprint for how manufacturers can transform their production process by marrying traditional craftsmanship with modern, digital tools.

Hensch's insights reveal the deep challenges faced by the apparel industry, particularly the difficult balance between preserving the art of craftsmanship and embracing the necessity of digital transformation in such a labor-intensive sector of the global economy.

An Artisan's Approach to Digital Transformation

Hensch began his career as a bespoke tailor, where every stitch and cut was a testament to the artisan’s skill. “I started as a tailor by myself and I always wanted to have my own tailor shop in 1984, so quite a dinosaur, so to say,” explains Hensch. “And then being in the industry, I felt like this was a good opportunity also to be creative on scale.” This early experience profoundly shaped his approach to industrial leadership.

When doing this for a couple of decades, I realized that creativity is not only in the product, but creativity is also in creating organizational setups, creating organizations to actually create something, to manufacture something.

Joachim Hensch
Founder, Joachim Hensch Consulting

As Hensch explains, his transition from the shop floor to a role in management didn't strip away his artisan roots. Instead, it allowed him to see the potential of digital tools in enhancing the very essence of craftsmanship in large-scale production.

Mack molding operator using a screwdriver at a workstation

Empowering Artisans With Digital Tools

A crucial part of Hensch's strategy was to empower the frontline workers with digital tools, which became fundamental to the organization’s transformation.

Key to this transformation was the introduction of 1,600 tablets — one for every worker — allowing them to interact more directly and efficiently with the manufacturing process. This first foray into digitalization significantly improved the frontline operator’s experience in what had previously been the more mundane aspects of the job, leading to a much more efficient production system.

For instance, the process of tracking bundles, which previously involved typing in a long string of numbers into a separate system, was simplified to just a few touches on the tablet screen. Hensch also introduced a custom messaging app, akin to a Twitter channel, to enhance communication and connection between frontline operators and managers within the factory.

As Hensch explains, “All of a sudden they got birthday wishes and congratulations. They got invitations for trainings. They got information about what kind of color thread they would need. When the machine would break, they had a button to push and then the mechanic would come in like, five minutes.”

They started to love this device because they were more efficient. That increased their personal bonus and by the end of the month, they could see their [wages] going up.

Joachim Hensch
Founder, Joachim Hensch Consulting

In the words of Hensch, “It's hard, but it's like this. People are not changing their life if it is not easier or if it increases their wages.” Unlike many popular conceptions of what Industry 4.0 entails, his perspective underlines the importance of a human-centric approach that aligns technological advancement with the direct benefits it can offer to the workforce. By putting your workers at the center of digital transformation, manufacturers are able to ensure that these efforts are inclusive and rewarding for all involved.

This approach not only improved operational efficiency but also enhanced worker satisfaction and financial well-being. It stands as a testament to the idea that successfully integrating digital technologies in manufacturing can lead to a win-win scenario — boosting productivity while enriching the work experience for frontline operators.

Mack Molding Operator Interacting with Tulip

Prioritizing People in the Age of Automation

Joachim Hensch's transformative strategy at Hugo Boss provides a profound lesson for the broader manufacturing industry: The true power of digital transformation lies in its ability to enhance human capabilities, not just automate them away. This is fundamentally different from the typical approach promoted by many Industry 4.0 thought leaders, which places full automation, or a ‘lights-out-factory,’ as the pinnacle of a successful digital transformation.

The thousands of blue collars sitting on sewing machines, they were the ones who loved the digitization process the most. They loved it the most because their life changed dramatically for the better.

Joachim Hensch
Founder, Joachim Hensch Consulting

Hensch's experience illustrates that when workers are equipped with digital tools that augment the skills they have honed through years of experience, rather than replacing them through pure automation, the entire operation becomes more efficient — without sacrificing the craftsmanship that sets their products apart.

This human-centric approach to digital transformation resonates deeply within the manufacturing industry, where there's a growing recognition of the need to balance technological advancements with the empowerment of the workforce. By aligning digital initiatives with the needs and unique capabilities of workers, as Hensch did, industries can not only boost efficiency but also foster a more engaged and motivated workforce.

Hensch’s journey from a tailor to a digital transformation leader emphasizes the importance of respecting worker’s unique skills like expert craftsmanship, while embracing change and augmenting their abilities with new, digital tools. For a successful digital transformation, manufacturers must not simply improve efficiency at all costs, but do so in a manner that empowers the people who make the products. His story is one that serves to inspire manufacturers — urging them to continue innovating and pushing the boundaries of what’s possible in frontline operations, while staying consistent to their values and keeping their frontline operators at the center.

From Tailor to Technologist: A Digital Transformation Journey

Check out the full podcast episode for a deeper dive into Hensch’s journey and the digital transformation insights he learned along the way.

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