Industry 4.0

State of Play in Digital Readiness Levels – bringing clarity to digital manufacturing

Tim Watt 0 Comments

DETC is helping development of the concept of Digital Readiness Level (DRL) with our delivery partner HSSMI, that has consulted with industry and academia and recently proposed headline challenges for a strategy for delivering effective deployment of digital technologies in manufacturing for businesses.

As it further develops and test these concepts, Simon Barnes, HSSMI’s Commercial Director, offers his ‘state of affairs report’ of DRL, and invites further input…




Simon Barnes, Commercial Director, HSSMI

Simon Barnes, Commercial Director, HSSMI

Over the last 18 months HSSMI has talked to its customers and academic partners about digital manufacturing, otherwise known as industry 4.0 or Factory of the Future. The names vary but the intent is the same: how can we help increase productivity, quality, flexibility and reduce costs by employing digital technologies in manufacturing plants.

A recent report commissioned by the SMMT from KPMG cites an impressive set of numbers that such digital technologies could bring to the UK automotive manufacturing sector. For example, up to a 5% increase in overall productivity, up to a 50% increase in productivity of technical disciplines such as production planning and up to a 25% reduction in both time to market and maintenance costs.

It is in some ways easy to see how new technologies can support this ambition. For example, using source Computer Aided Design (CAD) product data for supporting production planning could reduce time and cost through a seamless transition from one system to another. But to achieve the full value offered by digital, as in any other business change discipline, a business will need a co-ordinated strategy and objectives.

Digital is a rapidly changing environment encompassing many more technologies and business processes that just IT.

HSSMI and its partners therefore think direction is needed, firstly in developing a strategy and then for driving ambition.

Overall strategy

So, what are the headline challenges for an overall strategy for business to deliver the improvements KPMG cite? And how can UK manufacturing use digital as a competitive advantage?

  • First, create a clear definition of what digital manufacturing means. Is it a technology challenge, or an organisational issue?
  • Second, determine a ‘start off’ point to phase digital into operations. Or, ask if it is only suitable for greenfield operations.
  • Third, determine how and when to approach customers, suppliers and partners about digital manufacturing.
  • Finally, and most importantly, demonstrate the delivery of value from digital at the lowest possible risk. This is the ‘why?’ of digital.

Combined technology and business approaches needed to gain value

To address these questions HSSMI thought long and hard. We looked at a wide range of different models aiming to give direction that would deliver digital manufacturing benefits. Some of these models such as the those by the VDMA and Roland Berger are very technical, others such as those by PWC and Deloitte more business focused. Neither approach is wrong per se, as combinations of technologies and business approaches will be needed to gain value from digital.

A common approach and language

Initially, HSSMI identified the need for a common approach and language to discuss digital. As the debate moves forward and internal and supply chain discussions move from learning to the implementation phases, we need common approaches and reference points.

To deliver this common approach HSSMI is developing an assessment and ambition model, using common terminology.

We looked at and referenced the well-respected indicators of Technology Readiness Level (TRL) and Manufacturing Readiness Level (MRL). Both are widely known and referred to, internally and within businesses supply chains. Readiness Levels resonate in terms of state of play and ambition. Using this terminology places digital in the same context as product technology and manufacturing systems; positioning it as important for driving digital into business strategies.

Inviting partners into the concept

In late 2016 we sounded out stakeholders and found that, although several digital manufacturing readiness and maturity models existed, none offered the brand reputation, clarity or acceptability of TRL and MRL.

HSSMI has registered DRL as a term but will share this with collaborative partners on an open basis.

HSSMI recognises it cannot develop DRL on its own. So, we are now pulling partners into the concept, including the High Value Manufacturing Catapults, the Digital Catapult, Knowledge Transfer Network and others – in order to develop and test the concept.

Competencies and capabilities

To date, we have combined the technology and process aspects from the models we have studied, and developed six competencies and a series of capabilities.

  1. Technical competency
    1. Flexible and agile production
    2. Take up of digital hardware
    3. New technology; for example, additive manufacturing
    4. Traceability; products, assets and teams
    5. Digital Infrastructure
  2. Data Maturity
    1. Advanced analytics
    2. Data security
    3. Data Utilisation
  3. System Integration
    1. Supply chain integration (customers and suppliers)
    2. Data and physical integration
    3. Digital; with reference to compliance, legal and tax
    4. IT Integration
    5. IP ownership
  4. Value Creation
    1. Customisation and customer engagement
    2. Process Efficiency
    3. New Business Models
    4. Agility and responsiveness
  5. Leadership
    1. Strategy
    2. Resources
    3. Process
    4. Innovation Management
    5. Culture
  6. People
    1. Skills and Talent
    2. Implementation
    3. Engagement and collaboration

In line with other models we don’t believe each of these competencies would necessarily require the same weighting. We think technology, data and value creation are relatively of more importance, which will reflected and acknowledged in the final model.

HSSMI is now framing its model to offer help at several levels:

  • Health – offering an overview of the current health of digital in business
  • Maturity – how well is digital developed
  • Readiness – this may apply to an individual project or programme
  • Cadence – in the rapidly changing world of digital is an organisation keeping up with change?

Sustainable approaches to digital

This perspective, based on common principles, will enable a business to develop a long-term, sustainable approach to digital. Importantly, the framework will enable a common language and common questions and solutions to take business from Industry 3.0 to Industry 4.0.

The framework will enable access to the model through tiers of management and between teams; in effect, horizontally and vertically. HSSMI and its partners do not see a ‘Big Bang’ approach to the implementation of digital in manufacturing. A combination will be needed, but a horizontal approach, for example based on product and part track and trace as a start, is a viable option to developing digital, if the wider context is considered, which DRL enables.

It is hoped this will overcome the most challenging question ‘where do we start?’

HSSMI and partners sees organisations fazed by the challenge of digital. McKinsey uses a terminology of developing a digital thread through a business, we think that’s a good analogy. The stronger and more extensive the thread the better the response to digital and the higher the opportunity for that business to create value. Digital Readiness Levels enables an organisation to see how to run the thread of digital and where to strengthen.

A plan to deliver results

To return to where we started. A five per cent improvement in productivity, year on year is an attractive proposition. HSSMI and partners believe we need DRL to scope, plan and deliver that ambition in a way that any other new product or programme would be considered.

Digital is a thread or a language, requiring a plan to deliver results.

That is what DRL offers.

Simon Barnes, Commercial Director, HSSMI

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