A smart factory doesn’t eliminate human work, it embraces it from leaders to factory floor workers

You might be wondering if a smart factory is something you would see in a film describing the far future: machines doing all the work automatically, no staff needed. In reality, smart factories are already here and, though it might seem unexpected when talking about digitalization, the secret to making your smart factory a success is in the hands of the humans involved. What does this mean and how can you harness your staff’s full potential to benefit your factory? What kind of role does leadership when starting your smart factory journey?

Smart factories don’t eliminate human work, they embrace it from leaders to factory floor workers

Getting your whole team from leaders to people working on the factory floor on board with making smart factory initiatives is the key to getting the most out of modern tools that help your factory increase productivity and efficiency.

“Senior leaders in operations, supply chains, strategy, and other functions can think strategically about how the smart factory transformation can drive value more broadly at the network level. Those on the shop floor – plant managers, plant engineers, manufacturing operators, technicians, and others – can drive change and results on the shop floor.”

Think user-oriented design before technology

When looking at smart factory success stories, many leaders pinpoint the need for user-oriented solutions. This means that a smart factory should not be built only around processes and new data-based tools that create extra work for their users – despite how advanced technology they use. Instead, you should take a moment to look at the real needs and problem points of processes to build the solutions in a way that makes work more efficient for your staff. Take time to understand how individual roles work and what tools they need.

“By employing a human-centered approach to understand what the user’s pain points are, we make sure we understand how they need to use information, what they need to look for, why they need to investigate it, and how they need to act on it.”

In other words: get to know your user first, then see how technology can help you solve challenges in their work process. Smart factory solutions should always bring value to business, but also to people using them in everyday work. Keeping users in mind when planning smart factory solutions also helps tackle change resistance, as users see that new solutions are brought into the factory to help them. Read our customer case about building a more visual and transparent manufacturing environment here!

Leadership makes a difference

When looking at possibilities to incorporate smart factory initiatives, it is important to look for the right people with the right mindset. Having at least one change-driven team member or a passionate leader who leads by example can start a wave of change in the whole team’s mindset. Daily processes and tasks have often been done for long the way they have always been done, which means you might face some resistance to change when taking the first steps on your smart factory journey. Engaging staff early often helps, and this is where the meaning of a smart factory -minded leader is most valuable.

Some say that 90 % of the solution is getting the right leader with the right experience and passion on board your smart factory journey. You can first start looking for this person inside your company, since they already know the basics of what your operations are about. Be sure to keep an open mind as you might find the right match in an unexpected current position. Throw away hierarchy-thinking and look first and foremost for a way of thinking that supports your smart factory visions. Skills can be taught, but the right attitude is often harder to find.

While it is often recommended to start your smart factory journey with one certain process or workstream, keep the possibility for smart factory initiatives open for other departments and teams as well. Word spreads quickly – you might be surprised how different teams come forward with ideas and initiatives to increase productivity and make processes more efficient in their own department. Whether you decide to move forward with these initiatives right away, later, or not at all, it is important to give your staff the feeling of being seen and heard. This drives positive smart factory thinking and motivates teams to pay attention to possible development ideas in their everyday work also in the future.

A culture of diversity and continuous learning

A successful smart factory thrives on diversity: cross-functional teaming has been shown to result in greater organizational innovation and growth. Again, it all comes down to the people using smart factory tools. As a leader, it is important to create a culture of constant learning where talent can continually acclimate to new technologies, capabilities, processes, and ecosystem changes.

“Research reveals a correlation between hands-on experience with smart factory technologies and managers’ belief that the organization, and its people, can navigate the change.”

A culture of continuous learning is especially important in smart factory transformations, as they require people to adapt to new ways of working and decision-making. The truth is, very few people enjoy change – a positive culture helps make the journey towards a smart factory smoother. A strong smart factory culture is also agile, experimental, open-minded, creative, innovative, and well networked. Focusing on strengthening these traits can help commit your staff to smart factory change, leading to increase in results on all levels.

Sometimes getting started on the smart factory journey on your own might feel overwhelming. In fact, nearly 30 % of manufacturers feel hesitant to get started due to lack of experience, difficulty in adapting, lack of compelling business case or lack of overall strategy. Ready-made solutions, such as Fliq’s smart factory tools, are easy to implement into use, which makes the change smaller compared to creating new solutions from scratch. Teaming up with data and software professionals also helps in other ways: we know how to ask the right questions and create solutions to solve them in order to give the best value for your business.

At Fliq, we are here to help you take the first steps towards a productive smart factory and get your whole staff involved in the process. Check out our services to help you get started: Fliq Platform

2019 Deloitte and MAPI Smart Factory Study – Capturing value through the digital journey
Implementing the smart factory – new perspectives for driving value
Digital lean manufacturing – industry 4.0 technologies transform lean processes to advance the enterprise
Industry 4.0 Smart Operations – an imperative for the future of manufacturing