You Need A Champion for A Successful Industry 4.0 Initiative

Author – Tim Smith

All the talk in manufacturing circles is around technology adoption. Whether it is AI, Machine Learning, Industry 4.0. IIoT, OEE, and other topics, it is all about applying technology to the shop floor to enhance the operations and reap the benefits, and profits. The most important aspect of any adoption plan, regardless of the technology you are pursuing, is to appoint a Champion. Thousands of POCs and projects have failed because of this one critical component, a dedicated person to take ownership of the technology. ERP integrators learned this lesson decades ago as have every tech vendor since. If there is not a go-to person who is the liaison between all the internal departments and stakeholders and the external vendor and project integrators, the delays and conflicting expectations will drag the project to a halt and in most cases kill it. Technology has been an elusive tool in almost every plant because the cost/benefit ratio has been hard to assess. Of course, there are industry successes with hardware-based technology advancements such as additive manufacturing, lasers, and automation, but technology advancements based on primarily software is viewed skeptically at best. Most people over fifty have operated outside of manufacture-based technology. Of course, technologies such as CAD/CAM, DNC, PLC, have been mainstays for the last couple of decades, but MOMs, MES, MRP, MMIS are large nebulous software adoption projects which have seen less than stellar implementations with cost overruns, missed deadlines, partial implementations, mis-managed expectations, all of which could have been mitigated with a dedicated person to champion the project. Most “champions” are tossed into the role with the corresponding responsibilities piled on their already busy day. Their attitude being anything from indifference to outright animosity to the whole idea. The person selected rarely has the pull or the executive buy in to rally stakeholders from the various departments impacted by the new technology being adopted. If you have seen this in your organization, say “Ouch!”

How then does an organization select a champion?

First, management must be in full agreement that the selected person will be assigned as a dedicated resource. That the timeline for the commitment will span the investigation, selection, implementation, and adoption of the technology across the enterprise.

Second, that at the culmination of the project they will establish a full-time champion to maintain the technology and its continued adoption and use across the enterprise, this of course could be the initial champion assigned to drive the project or a new person instructed on the fulfillment of the role. Rest assured that the cost of the position will be greatly offset by the realization of the financial benefits of the technology. As an example, MERLIN Tempus purports an IRR of 300% with a payback of 4 months. I am sure that the realized profits will easily offset the cost of a dedicated person. The reason for having an ongoing dedicated person is to navigate the inevitable changes within the organization as they pertain to the operations and the applied technology. Three areas within the operations change regularly, people, product, and machines/processes. A Champion maintains coherency to the technology and recommends and implements contingencies during disruptions and procedures for ongoing application. Without a champion the technology will lose relevancy on the shop floor as changes occur. The Champion becomes essential in assessing and integration of other technologies into his or her primary focus, such as adding automated part inspection to a manufacturing information system they are responsible for, to augment the operational event data being collected and expand the collective feature set. The Champion always keeps a focus on the final objective for the initial adoption of the technology, such as “lights out” operational capability or “zero defects” or part traceability. Without an overseeing presence the whole degrades into its constituent parts, in other words without a central force to maintain identity all of the participants return to their respective areas and the technology languishes. The dedicated ongoing role of a Champion will maintain the technology and its continuing value to the enterprise.

As an example, if a plant set out to select a manufacturing information system to drive efficiencies, improve throughput, mitigate disruptions, meet deliveries and provide customer satisfaction without adding user-faced complexity or unreasonable demand on their time but instead enhancing and streamlining operations across the enterprise, those same objectives become the mantra of the Champion. His or her job is to represent the various stakeholders impacted by and/or benefiting from such objectives. Remember though that ongoing benefits are inherent in the technology provider selected. A great jockey can’t win if riding a nag, so we are presuming that a full productized solution from a provider that is expert in their industry has been selected. A cheap pony is great for a child’s birthday party but it will never win a race and a pile of racing gear does not a racehorse make 🙂 .

So what makes a great Champion?

  1. A person who is technical but not necessarily an IT specific person.
  2. A person who understands and has had experience with operations.
  3. A person who has duties which may have brought them into contact and experience with other platforms in the enterprise such as an ERP, MRP, MES, etc.
  4. A person who has project management experience, but not necessarily a project manager.
  5. A person who has had people management experience.
  6. A person who has been with the company long enough to have the respect of his or her bosses and peers and other departments.
  7. A person who has Lean training.
  8. A person who can communicate well orally or written.

What is the new Champion’s mandate?

The champion will ask OT and production to perform a requirements assessment. OT and production should be tasked to define a basic needs list. The champion then needs to review the requirements from all production departments, production, supervision, maintenance, QA, tooling, CI, engineering, etc. Each department should be canvassed for a high-level list of needs as they pertain to getting their jobs done.

Do not let the manufacturing departments get bogged down in trying to understand how any software will provide the proposed benefit, but rather have them provide the “day in the life” of each task, requirement or need. These use cases will enable the champion to build a composite of feature requirements. Now, there is NEVER a single software solution which will deliver on all the needs of the departments. But the list will help determine which tasks and requirements can be grouped together to create a requirements list for short listing prospective solutions. The champion must sit down with IT an solicit their input to the project.

I have seen in over three decades of IT and manufacturing experience, many projects fail because of myopia of the selection group. To select based on short term objectives will undermine the success of a project and in many cases cause it to fail. There are hundreds of manufacturers who have gone down this path and are living with a mediocre product with less than stellar results because they chose the path of simplicity and least resistance. I have seen production shops ram in a simple solution because they could do it without IT involvement and they may succeed in getting the solution up and running but the results are limited and non-sustainable, usually with no value after 6 months.

When the champion moves his or her attention onto the shop floor, they inherit a new internal customer. The biggest mistake of any champion is to overlook this critical understanding. They are not baby sitting a department for the benefit of the executive, they are engaging a new internal customer for the benefit of the company itself. The champion is responsible for the initiative and for the resulting implementation and product ownership. The champion will become a subject matter expert not only in the product deployed but in the application of the technology to the various manufacturing stakeholders. He or she must develop a liaison relationship with each stakeholder representative or team. The champion must be able to understand and articulate to the all the teams from IT to production to OT to management and the C-suite respective needs of each department as it relates to the Industry 4.0 initiative. When the individual builds a trust with each stakeholder group, the champion will become an essential bridge between all participants relating to the Industry 4.0 initiative.

The selection process for an application to deliver on Industry 4.0 must be able to accomplish the convergence of three data streams: the assets (machine, station, cell, line, or operation), the human element (operators and other floor personnel) and the Backoffice (ERP, MRP, MES, other third-party applications). The solution candidates must provide a productized approach to connecting shop floor assets. The application must connect natively to multiple data protocols and be designed with extensibility as a feature. The moment that the approach to connecting assets becomes an engineering effort, then the project will double or triple its deployment timeline. Almost all IT groups have little to know experience in connecting assets on the shop floor. They understand network topology, and deploying a managed network infrastructure, but they have limited experience in mechanical, robotic, or electrical engineering. Of course, if the asset supports a software protocol such as MTConnect, FOCAS, or OPC then there is a better understanding of how an asset should connect to a potential Industry 4.0 product. As for legacy equipment (11 million machine tools still in operation are considered legacy equipment with no networking capabilities) the approach to connecting these assets should be more productized than engineered. IT will not have the ability to support or manage a purely engineered connection. In line with a typical IT management philosophy, the ability to swap out a failed edge device to restore connectivity is the acceptable methodology rather than must rely on engineers to rebuild a connection. Regardless of the connection being a soft protocol or a hard-wired edge device, assets in production make money. Access to assets to connect to a system will be limited. There are companies which have chosen the engineered connection route and have taken 48 months to connect three plants and a single dashboard view. An acceptable turn around to connect a machine asset should be measured in three to four hours as an average. The solution provider should offer field services to deploy a solution, if needed. It is mistaken to assume maintenance or another department can shoulder the effort to connect the floor, even if IT has selected an approach. Manufacturing resources should only be considered as a support group and not the prime resource for implementation. If left to internal resources the project will inevitably experience delays caused by lack of resources, production priorities and other unforeseen issues and negatively impact the deployment and possibly the success of the project.

Historically, failed Industry 4.0 initiatives are directly related to two responsible groups; production because they have not assigned a shop floor champion and IT who present almost impossible conditions by which to deploy. From a production point of view, if the solution provider can never get the production resource to commit to assist in deployment, the project will see unreasonable delays and impact deployment costs. The solution provider will inevitably need to have remote access to deploy and configure their Industry 4.0 product. IT protocols for security can greatly impair the ability to efficiently deploy their solution. In some cases, this author has seen deployment times balloon by a factor of three because IT made no effort in providing an approach or environment or concessions to access during the execution of the project. Industry 4.0 providers will need access to the server where the solution will be deployed. They will need to copy and install software and perform configuration tasks. Once deployed, the vendor usually only needs access to the respective portal for continued deployment. A recommendation would be to assign the host server to a DMZ so that the initial installation can be conducted without impairment. Once most host-related tasks are completed, IT can then move the server back into the domain. Then, IT can configure unimpaired access to the solution portal (web based) by exposing the portal with appropriate credentials, VPN, 2 factor authentication or other acceptable security. Since the vendor is restricted to only access the solution portal, the level of security can usually be relaxed because there is no interaction with the host server directory. There may, at times still be need for a vendor to access the host server and in those instances the typical security procedures would be in place. The described approach would remove much of the delivery delays experienced by vendors which impact the project.

Finally, the assigned champion must have latitude to embrace the solution and become a subject matter expert. When such a resource is socialized to the various manufacturing stakeholders, he or she can provide a bridge for the features and functions of the selected Industry 4.0 product to the needs of the respective stakeholder groups. He or she will face a learning curve as it relates to the software and to how the application is applied to the needs of the shop floor. If the initial requirements discussed earlier in the article was implemented, then the champion has enough information to create a “playbook” for the stakeholders. Ultimately, for a successful deployment and ongoing use of the solution there must be a commitment from each stakeholder to embrace features and functions as part of their processes to receive value from the system. This author has seen efficiency improvements in the double digits for most manufacturers involved in an Industry 4.0 initiative when the approach resembles what has been described here. The champion will be the integral agent to a successful adoption of Industry 4.0, but that will require an approach described above and not relegate the initiative only as a management engagement. The champion becomes pivotal in understanding how the application’s features and functions can drive productivity for each stakeholder. The champion must be more than a babysitter. He or she must become an enabler. That is the key to a successful Industry 4.0 initiative.