3 Risks for Industrial Manufacturers Who Hesitate on Digital Transformation

CoLab Team

March 10, 2021


min read

Business decisions about software for the industrial and manufacturing sectors were tough enough when there were only a few players and products on the market. Now there are more options than one person can keep track of, resulting in choice overload and decision paralysis—and putting businesses at risk of falling behind simply because they’re unsure of the best way forward.

It’s tempting to fall into thinking traps to avoid facing the whole complicated mess. You might tell yourself it’s better to rely on “tried and true” methods. Or that you don’t have time to sort through all the options and understand what they actually do for you. Or maybe, deep down, you feel new software and technologies come with big risks you’d rather not deal with.

But the truth? Today, the biggest risk industrial leaders need to manage is the risk of hesitating on digital transformation. After all, your competitors are faced with the same overwhelm on how to navigate software and technology purchases, Industry 4.0, and the evolution of the entire innovation ecosystem. It’s businesses that conquer this overwhelm and act swiftly to implement smart solutions who’ll emerge (or remain) as the industry leaders of the 2020s.

To understand why the risks of waiting are so significant, here are 3 specific dangers for industrial manufacturers who don’t keep up with digital trends.

1. You Miss Out on Top Engineering Talent

Put yourself in a fresh engineering grad’s shoes. Imagine your first two work terms involved emailing revisions back and forth with several engineers, painstakingly formatting PowerPoint slides with marked-up screenshots of 3D models, constantly hopping on Zoom calls to share your SolidWorks screen (while hoping the strain doesn’t crash your computer… again), and scrolling back through endless chat messages so you don’t forget any issues or feedback.

Then your third work term happens and it’s an entirely different experience. Instead of being stuck with the outdated industry status quo, your team uses software that makes design review agile. Here, reviews are faster and admin is automated. There’s a clear outline for the process, an intuitive dashboard so you can filter issues, and higher-quality feedback on your designs. Any comments on your work, from any teammate, are pinned to your model and auto-tracked in one spot. You get more work done using fewer hours, so you have more time to keep innovating.

Be honest. After three work terms like that, would you ever return to design review “the old way”?

That’s the situation for manufacturers today. When it comes to engineering teams, your tools have a big-time impact on your talent pool. If you want the best products, you need the best people. And if you want the best people, you can’t tolerate archaic processes—because top talent sure won’t.

2. There’s a Ceiling on Your Productivity (and Your Growth)

Your design review process has a “top speed,” and it’s one of the limiting factors in a manufacturing business. In other words: your engineering team’s productivity (and your company’s growth) is limited by how fast they can get design reviews done. And this effect only gets worse if you’re designing something complex or intricate or never-been-done-before.

As design gets more and more complex, it needs more input—from more people—more often. Whether those people are marking up 2D drawings or explaining an issue on a 3D model, it doesn’t take long for all the communication to get unmanageable. When you layer in language barriers, time-zone math, and misaligned work schedules, the design review admin becomes a full-time job in itself.

If your software and technology decisions are overfocused on price alone, you’re missing a big part of the equation. Doing a proper cost-benefit analysis means figuring out that top speed for your manual design review process—and deciding what it truly costs you to keep your productivity capped at that level.

3. You’re More Vulnerable to Human Errors

You can optimize anything you want, but you can’t optimize away one simple truth: humans make more mistakes than machines do. People forget things. People overlook things. People make typos. (Okay, some of them are autocorrect’s fault, but that brings us back to “People overlook things.”)

That’s why a solid system is so valuable. Systems, defined workflows, well-designed processes—they work wonders. That’s why design reviews exist in the first place, to minimize mistakes and maximize quality.

But even the best system in the world is vulnerable to mistakes if it relies on humans to execute a large number of small, tedious tasks on a repetitive basis. It’s not just the odds of random errors you need to worry about, either. When review cycles are long and painful already, it creates a situation where your team associates more design collaboration with more admin work. Design review becomes a chore, and it’s hard to be engaged in something that feels like a chore.

So between the baseline level of human error, mistakes that stem from a disengaging review process, and blindspots from failing to get external stakeholders’ input early or often enough—it’s hard to measure the actual costs of manual design review. But even without a precise measurement, it’s pretty easy napkin math to work out that fewer mistakes = fewer expensive changes.

The Bottom Line: Your Bottom Line Suffers

At the end of 2020, Elon Musk told the audience of Wall Street Journal‘s annual CEO Council summit: “Spend less time on PowerPoint and more time just trying to make your product as amazing as possible.” And while some of Musk’s comments can stir up controversy, we doubt any engineers out there are arguing with that advice.

Digital transformation is here. The fourth industrial revolution is here. It was true before the pandemic, and it won’t be any less true for 2021. 

If you don’t want to be one of the companies who’s still hesitating about new software or technology while their competitors outpace them, it’s time to shake off your fears and learn about your options. After all, that’s the only way to make them less overwhelming.

Want an easy first step? Book a 15-minute CoLab demo!

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February 11, 2021

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