Small Starts: Digital Transformation Baby Steps

| Jim Bischoff

Digital Transformation Journey

Back in January, I wrote an article called 5 Steps to Digital Transformation Success. Since then, Horizon Solutions has been working with many of our manufacturing customers to help them understand their “Big Vision” as well as help them assess where they are on their automation digital transformation journey.

A Case Study of Starting Small

In my blog, I talked about “Starting Small” and finding the right opportunity for a proof of concept (PoC). Below is an example of a customer’s great PoC opportunity for beginning their automation digital transformation, although it wasn’t necessarily apparent to them at first.

High Demand and Obsolete Equipment Collide

Like many of our customers, a food manufacturer was struggling to move forward on their digital transformation journey. Their product is in high demand, and with limited resources, they were doing everything they could just to keep the plant up and running. Although they knew they could be more efficient, especially with upgrades that provide access to the information they needed to increase efficiency, they were just focused on making enough product to fulfill demand.

Recently, a critical piece of equipment went down. They discovered that an obsolete programmable controller had failed, an Allen-Bradley® SLC-100 (circa 1980s!). These controllers are no longer available new and were no longer eligible for repair. To limit downtime, the customer decided to purchase a used SLC-100 online. After waiting for delivery and installing the unit, they discovered that it too was defective, and now additional downtime would be incurred.

The First Step in a Digital Transformation

The customer reached out to Horizon Solutions. With the help of a local systems integrator, we were able to provide a modern, information-enabled control solution to replace the obsolete standalone SLC-100. In addition to upgrading to a newer CompactLogix™ controller, it would be easy and timely to add some additional sensors and a low-cost reporting package to give the customer the information they need to increase their efficiency and yield.

Although they know that they will likely outgrow this small reporting package as they continue to modernize their manufacturing facility, this information will help them immediately, justifying the investment in a larger information infrastructure in the future. Best of all, because all the newer equipment was readily available, the systems integrator was able to get them up and running quicker than waiting for another obsolete replacement controller. When you factor in the cost of downtime, the modernization effort was likely the lower-cost solution for this customer. This is an effective first step toward continuing their digital transformation journey.

A Path Forward

This customer is planning to modernize more of their facility and will likely invest in Lifecycle Assessment Services to better understand where they have risk and to prioritize future investments.

So, did they follow the five-step formula for their digital transformation? Let us see.

  1. Think Big. The customer understands that they need to be more efficient and increase yield.
  2. Start Small. It may have taken a failed attempt at a “quick fix,” but the customer found an excellent opportunity to invest in information-enabled technology.
  3. Scale Fast. There are several other projects in process or planned in this area of the plant utilizing similar technology.
  4. Repeat. We are now working with this customer in other areas of the facility and looking at modernizing other equipment.
  5. Select the Right Partners. Horizon Solutions and a local Integrator were able to help this customer get back up and running and be better positioned to achieve their big picture efficiency and yield goals.

Are You Ready to Start Your Journey?

With the help of our Automation Specialists, the blueprint is not hard to follow. Do you need help with your digital transformation journey? Contact us today!