How will digitalization change collaboration in your manufacturing company?

Five questions on collaboration in discrete manufacturing

Published 10/29/2021
How will digitalization change collaboration in your manufacturing company?

Why do we care about collaboration in manufacturing enterprises?

The term "collaboration" addresses two perspectives which have both proven highly significant to long-term business success.

For one, we have the engineering perspective, involving collaboration in structured processes within business units, as well as interdisciplinary collaboration between different units and stakeholders.

Compared to a decade ago, this process chain now usually includes a larger number of business units and stakeholders.

“In some industries, market trends like short innovation cycles and the individualization of products and services have triggered a wide-ranging integration of divisions including sales, R&D, purchasing, controlling, marketing and services”, explains Martin Buchholz. “Also, collaboration spans beyond factory gates. By that, I not only refer to a company's global locations but also to customers, suppliers and partners.” Buchholz brings up the catchphrase of an interconnected value-adding network.

The second dimension of collaboration concerns the much-cited aspect of teamwork. This has been a good corporate governance buzzword for a long time, but demands have grown here too. Although there is a lot of talk about digitalization today, this does not change the fact that it is the employees who matter. Their creativity, empathy and spontaneity are particularly important when it comes to creating a culture of innovation.

The methods and devices by which collaboration is organized have to promote this change process. The same applies to other aspects of organizational development – culturally sensitive globalization, diversity, evolving lifestyles or “new work” job models.

“In a modern manufacturing enterprise, the quality of collaboration can be gauged by asking just two questions”, says Buchholz. “One: How well can the employees fulfill the role they have been assigned within their respective teams? Two: How efficient, effective and flexible is the product development process?”


Why do businesses have to make their collaboration more digital?


Increasing the digital collaboration maturity paves the road toward digitally consistent processes. For manufacturing companies, this is a core competitiveness factor:

  • Process and data continuity lets them introduce new business models – buzzword: platform economics.
  • End-to-end digitalization boosts productivity.
  • Enterprises can increase their innovative capacity and better target current market developments.

Transforming the way businesses collaborate also means that collaboration itself becomes more cost-effective, because its workflows are more secure and efficient.

Based on his consulting work, Buchholz can point to where exactly the productivity and quality of collaboration often suffers today.

In digital engineering, most processes are perforce data-based, but usually they are not consistently digital. In most cases, various disconnected software tools are used and accordingly, there are distributed data sets.

This creates problems for the efficiency of generating, using and updating information. Buchholz lists some typical examples:

  • redundant data generation, simultaneous use of data sets in different versions, unintended overwriting of data, manual (= error-prone) data transmission
  • no overview of the total data pool and storage locations
  • access barriers, lack of remote access, lack of consistent rights management
  • major challenges regarding external audits (ISO, etc.)

“A company’s engineering and manufacturing data are an enormous repository of knowhow and experience. Businesses continually invest in this intellectual property, any yet many of them lag far behind when it comes to exploiting and systematically increasing this treasure”, notes Buchholz.

These aren’t favorable conditions for a successful engineering concept that satisfies modern-day demands. Some of the most important shortcomings:

  • lack of reliable, real-time project overviews and lack of information on the status of (sub-) tasks
  • no means for installing an end-to-end digitalized release process
  • no end-to-end digital change and variant management
  • limited means for replicating equivalent work results
  • no upstream/downstream integration and automation of manufacturing workflows
  • lack of digital support for the continuous improvement process
  • insufficient digital support for intellectual property management
  • insufficient traceability

Management should consider the effects on teamwork and employee motivation just as much as the direct economic consequences. Silo knowledge, misunderstandings and an insufficient sense of achievement create frustration and can foster passivity and an unwillingness to shift from the status quo.

This brief list gives us an idea of the enormous potential that digitalized collaboration holds for both modern and classic challenges in management: Cost pressures, quality pressures and abbreviated time-to-market cycles are all easier to address if collaboration becomes more interconnected.

What could digitalized collaboration look like in practice?

The solution lies in implementing a digital platform that offers a future-proof approach to precisely these questions. Discrete manufacturing can radically reduce the interface issues which have plagued it for decades. Finally, it is over with silos that contradict the logic of the product manufactured as desired, efficiently and in a resource-saving manner. Managers can end long-held silos for data, activities, or ideas.

Collaboration along end-to-end processes, across business units and national boundaries, can then run as effortlessly as our private electronic gadgets – only with better security, and in compliance with industrial standards.

“Important scenarios such as customer feedback for product improvements thus have both a technological backbone and a user experience that encourages people to participate”, is an example cited by Buchholz. “Whether sales, back office, service or installation – all business units contribute knowledge. The platform brings the information sources together, standardizes them and makes the knowledge available throughout the enterprise in truly transparent form.”

Introducing such a platform may first need a project phase that aligns methodologies (model-based definition) but also processes – any digital transformation will run into trouble if supposedly defined, strictly observed processes are unclear, or if there are major disparities in process knowledge.

How should digitalized collaboration be structured?

“Your company’s digitalization drivers are your employees. Whether or not the transformation is a success depends on them”, says Buchholz.

His recommendation: “Think big, start small, start now!” The path to a clearly defined goal should traverse through a series of individual milestone projects, each of which already generates added value for the company.

“This approach ensures that the enterprise can shoulder the individual implementation phases while going about its operative business at the same time. Progress reviews are conducted to continually assess the status of target achievement. Shared success keeps motivation high and even increases it, because people notice that suddenly, collaboration has a whole new impact on results. This creates a spirit that encourages the participants to actively keep driving the project forward.”

From a technology point of view, implementation has to keep later expansions to other enterprise IT systems in mind. After all, the vision is to integrate the horizontal and vertical levels into a single entity that can be measured, steered and structured.

Looking to this future, it is important for companies to choose the right platform and have a partner on their side with deep engineering and IT expertise, industry knowledge, and decades of experience working with people in the manufacturing world.

“We at CENIT assist many international manufacturing enterprises as Trusted Advisor, some of them for many years now. We keep an eye on the process as a whole and take the long view to our client consulting”, says Buchholz.

In order to achieve the goals of the digital transformation, CENIT recommends the 3DEXPERIENCE platform. With it, companies achieve seamless integration into the existing system landscape consisting of ERP, CRM, QDM or MES systems, etc. And it offers many operating variants from classic on-premise scenarios to SaaS.

What solutions does CENIT offer for digitalized collaboration?

First off, the status quo and the targets must be precisely defined. To this end, CENIT’s consulting team conducts a digital process assessment. “This step identifies the level of digital maturity and provides the basis for selecting the right milestones on the path to the end target”, says Buchholz.

CENIT’s solution is “Ready to Collaborate”, a compact package for introducing internal collaboration in product development – at a fixed price, with a clearly defined performance scope and a concrete project roadmap. It’s CENIT’s way of reducing project risks for client businesses.

“Our customers are ready to go and reap initial successes within three months. Ready to Collaborate lets us accelerate product generation processes and gives us a basis from which we can incrementally move on to additional topics”, says Buchholz in describing the project package.

To provide best-possible support, CENIT’s consultants also examine the client’s corporate culture. “We help our clients become digital top performers – in their own way, at their own pace! We have been serving this market for over 30 years and know our way around a wide range of industries. We have not just gained knowhow and process expertise – we also know how to communicate it to all stakeholders. We advise the business managers, work closely with the team leaders and offer the users precisely the recommendations they need to take the next steps toward successful digital transformation.”

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