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COVID-19 Has Popped the Industrial Digitization Bubble

By: Tim Eschert Tim headshot BW
• October 2020

Manufacturing firms have all embarked on some sort of digitization journey. Some began recently, while others have been at it for a decade or more. Seen by some as a necessary move to modernize operations, many remain skeptical to the purported benefits of this journey. This skepticism is well-founded, because industrial firms have been largely digitizing in a bubble. Now, that bubble has popped.

Industrial firms have always leveraged data to improve their processes. What differs now is that the pandemic presents a newreality, more volatile than any period since World War II. The industrial sector faces new types of pressure. Pressure from markets, stakeholders, and the political sphere are encouraging manufacturing firms to change — rapidly. Firms are expected to reduce raw material consumption, minimize emissions, and limit their waste. All while remaining profitable and keeping jobs safe.

If firms do not make their production data meet these new operational constraints, they will remain in a fruitless digitization bubble.

Modern process improvement must adapt to these new operational constraints. Improving the yield of a process alone isn’t enough anymore — how can we improve yield while reducing emissions? Relying on cheap, low-variation raw materials isn’t realistic anymore — how can our processes adapt to new recycled material streams? In order to keep up with these increasingly challenging constraints, industrial processes maximize flexibility, not just efficiency.

This presents a unique opportunity for leveraging production data. Domain experts can use their data to understand how to adapt their processes to variations in raw materials. They can do so in real-time, thus automatically adapting their process to changing conditions. Industrial leaders can expand the scope of process optimization to include external constraints, such as emissions, waste, and cost. These are all actions that can be taken with the data industrial firms already have — now that the bubble has popped, the value in production data becomes evident in how it can guide firms to adapt to these changing times.