The transition to digital manufacturing has risen in popularity with the expansion of quality computer systems in manufacturing. Quartz Network Executive Correspondent, Britt Erler, spends some time with Ben Davis, Executive Vice President of IT at Cambria to learn more about digital manufacturing and how companies can transition to it from their current operation.
Ben provides his insight on:
- Digital manufacturing application
- The benefits of digital manufacturing
- How to establish a digital manufacturing initiative
Quartz Network: Can you please give us a little insight into your background and your current role?
Ben Davis: I lead the IT initiatives at Cambria. I’ve been there about six years. My background is in born-in-the-cloud startup companies. We applied smart manufacturing and new technologies to our manufacturing process in a way that’s fueled our transformation and allowed us to make more, and higher quality, products than ever at a much lower run-rate cost. I’m passionate about transformation. Throughout my 25-plus year career in IT, I’ve been passionate about bringing improved processes, technology and data solutions, and enablement to businesses in a way that allows them achieve scalable growth. So that’s what I get out of bed to do every morning.
Quartz Network: What sort of business partnerships did you engage in for the purpose of advancing your transformation into digital manufacturing?
Ben Davis: The partnerships were very important to our objective to transform how we manufactured and really take advantage of technology and data solutions in a way that allowed our employees to know the score. It was via my partnership with our VP of Operations, who sees the value in technology and data visibility and decision making, that I always remind people to not be a victim of technology, but to really challenge our IT department to bring the best breed of solutions to the table. I also engaged quite heavily with our heads of automation and process engineering who saw some quick wins that we supplied to them through our agile process. And as a cousin to their lean manufacturing process, we found a way to get to minimum viable product very quickly and advance our smart manufacturing objectives.
Quartz Network: Let’s dive into the delivery process and its positive influence on this transformation.
Ben Davis: The positive influence in the transformation was all about getting the leaders to work with their mid-level managers and their doers to take advantage of the change that we were bringing to the table. We talk a lot at Cambria about engaging with the people in the three feet. Those are the great men and women who work on our manufacturing lines, run our trucks, run our distribution centers in our warehouses, and our fab shops. They really know what they need to be successful. And they really have a lot of ideas about how we can execute more efficiently. And we partnered with those people in the three feet to see how they were process hacking their job every day, to identify how we could make that part of our standard process.
Quartz Network: What were some of the performance indicators that you implemented at the beginning of this transformation?
Ben Davis: Increasing our throughput, decreasing defects in our product quality, reducing our failure rate. Those are the key performance indicators. Exposing those key performance indicators in a really consumable way was very important to us. And that went all the way from iPhones and iPads out in our manufacturing setting, all the way up to large screens on the manufacturing floor, and even a command center that’s like an air traffic control where automation engineers can watch what’s happening in our factory 24/7.
Quartz Network: What technologies do you recommend? What is the best for digital manufacturing? What is your recommendation for organizations that are looking to start implementing new technologies?
Ben Davis: Our ERP or enterprise resource planning and our manufacturing execution systems were both foundational bedrock technologies that drove our change. We use Oracle ERP and Wonderware for manufacturing execution, we then built a micro-services layer of our own on top of those foundational technologies, so that we could build small applications that could be made available to users via phone, iPad, or PC, and allowed them to consume functions they needed to run the factory every day. So, the foundational technology, with a micro-services layer that was bringing the logic can bring disparate systems of record together, and then exposing a user interface that was responsive. So, “available on any platform,” is how we got to where we needed to be.
Quartz Network: With any process, any technology that you implement, the main goal is to drive business results to make sure it’s moving the business forward in the right direction. What were some of the positive results, some of the biggest benefits that you saw for the business as a whole?
Ben Davis: I can tell you that we decreased our failure rate in producing quality product and we increased our throughput. We’re running our factory, like I mentioned before, at a much lower cost than we have in the past and producing more and higher quality products than we ever have. And like I mentioned, it’s just the matter of supply, data visibility, and the right easy-to-use applications for the people that that work in our manufacturing setting. So, they know the score, and they know if they’re winning or not. Every human being wants to win. If they can’t see the score, they don’t know if they’re winning. But today, all the folks in our factory can see how they’re doing against previous shift, how they’re doing against yesterday, how they’re doing against a monthly goal, and they want to meet or beat how they did previously. That’s incenting the right behaviors in the digital manufacturing setting and improving our throughput while decreasing our defect rate.
Quartz Network: Were there any major obstacles that you and your company faced when implementing these new technologies? And if so, what did you find were the keys to really achieving success after overcoming those obstacles?
Ben Davis: I think it was just a matter of trust at the beginning. Our IT function six years ago was very, “keep the lights on.” It wasn’t a fault of the people that were delivering it, they just weren’t in a position where they could be successful because at that time, the company wasn’t investing heavily in technology. So, once we got that investment from our ownership, it took some time for us to build trust with our operations and engineering partners to show them we could do the job. Then in building that trust, we identified quick wins that we could engage in together to prove things out and see how quickly we could deliver change in an effective way.
Quartz Network: Was there a strategy that you put in place to help with the training for the new technology to help with that alignment across teams?
Ben Davis: Absolutely. We wanted to make it as easy as possible for people to consume technology. So, we looked at how consumer solutions like Amazon or other solutions are used by people in their personal lives. And we emulated those types of user scenarios within the applications that we supplied. And then from a clarity of focus perspective, the EVP of operations and I would agree at the beginning of every year, what the IT goals and the operations goals were for the year. So, if anybody came to us with ideas that were outside of those core goals, they had to have a pretty compelling argument for our teams to deviate from that joint set of goals we established at the beginning of the year.
Quartz Network: Based on what you’ve seen so far, what is the future for digital manufacturing? And are there certain things that you believe executives should keep an eye out for?
Ben Davis: I think the future is all about self-service, as well as data and digital enablement. I believe the citizen data scientists will become the workers that we’ll count on to make products and really fuel the manufacturing engine-specific technologies. I think all the intuition, imagination, and critical thinking, as well as the digital manufacturing setting itself will need to complement AI, machine learning, Internet of Things technologies, so that we can continue to enable datasets in a way that allow us to fuel throughput.
Quartz Network: What final pieces of advice do you have for executives starting this journey?
Ben Davis: Be sure to tie whatever you’re doing with change and transformation to tangible business outcomes. And be sure to put those measurables in the hands of the business decision maker, so that you can be part of the part of the success. It’s really up to them to drive the tangible result and the value proposition, so they confirm and have ownership of the solution. Too often, IT tries to do that on behalf of their partners in the business and they wind up holding the solution in their hands. That’s something that needs to be passed on to the business owner at the beginning of the whole process. Transformation’s about people and enabling people in a transformation is the most important thing.
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