It’s not about letting the computers win.
As a shop production manager, you have a million things on your plate and mind. At any given moment, you have to worry about production schedules, completion rates, quality issues, material shortages, design changes, and more. When issues arise (as they always seem to), you’re responsible for fixing it no matter what.
This is where digitization can help save you time now and in the future. And the best part is you can start (and see time-saving benefits) easily.
Acting like your second brain, good digital shop tools helps you keep track of the madness, preemptively suggest improvements, and alert you when a problem might be coming down the pipeline so you can do something about it.
Here’s what you need to know.
What is shop digitization?
In short, digitization just means holding all important information in one (digital) place.
The power of digitization comes in two ways:
- Centralization: Save time cause you know all the information is there and in one place.
- Bird’s eye view: See how everything fits together and works in your shop.
Think of it like a very organized, easily searchable filing cabinet. You can easily see everything from overall company goals all the way down to the work logs of what happened yesterday. From there you can also see how different systems connect to one another, which helps you spot efficiencies and fix potential problems before they happen.
Goals of shop digitization
Data access: Making it easier for team members to access real-time information they can use to do their jobs better.
Insight generation: Seeing where different parts of the shop process intersect can help you spot errors, room for growth, and possible efficiencies.
Sets you up for future automation: When you can see how all the pieces fit together, you can start to make a plan to automate a lot of activities.
Digitization versus automation
It’s important to know that digitization and automation are not the same thing.
Digitization is the process of keeping centralized digital records of your information. Automation, on the other hand, leverages technology to complete tasks on your behalf with no (or minimal) intervention.
While digitization is a necessary element of automation (see: the goals of digitization), automation is not a required end of every digitization project. You may choose to automate down the line if you’d like - and there are lots of reasons why that’s beneficial - but you can also stop simply at digitization and still get immense value.
Where digitization saves time and adds value
It’s easy to see how much you have on your plate and think you don’t have time for a digitization project. However, the reality is that digitization will save more time in the short, medium, and long term than it takes to set up.
Here are the primary areas where digitization can save you time and add value to your production shop:
Finding information: When it’s stored, it’s findable.
That means no more searching for purchase orders in a mess of papers on your desk or wondering what happened to that time card you needed to punch for an employee. A digitization project puts everything together in one area with a search bar, turning that 10 minute task into a 10 second task.
Plan revisions and changes: A digital record is there forever.
When you do things by hand, you need to redo the whole thing to accommodate any changes or updates. A digital record makes this much easier.
For example, working with a BIM model versus drawing by hand. While the initial BIM model drawing may take a little longer than hand-drawing plans, the record is saved forever. That means every revision and change can be done in a fraction of the time it would have taken manually and all details can be copy-pasted for reuse in the future, saving time on new drawings for future projects.
Error discovery and resolution: Digitization helps you see the big picture.
When something goes wrong, chances are the real cause is buried somewhere in work orders and team communications. A digitized shop will have all this information available easily so you can quickly track the issue all the way back to its cause.
In the end, you not only save time diagnosing the problem but also have all the data you need to create a lasting solution.
Employee empowerment: When employees know what they need to do, work gets done faster.
Employees want to deliver. They want to ship their work and keep production smooth because it’s better for them as much as it’s better for the company. But a lot of employees are held back by data requests, safety checks, and more.
With a digitized shop, these records are readily available so employees can find the information they need and get to work. Not only does this mean more efficiency at the individual contributor level, it also saves Manager time since they don’t need to go on a data-finding mission for their team members.
Building a business case: Data to back up your asks for more resources.
Whether you’re trying to build up the shop or just keep pace with demand, you’ll need to ask for the right resources. Inevitably, management and internal teams will want to know why the resources are necessary and what return on investment they will generate. This is where a digitized shop can help because you’ll have the data ready to demonstrate what’s going on right now and what you hope to gain with the resources you’re asking for.
All of this can lead to higher profit margins and productivity because you have the information you need, when you need it.
Set up doesn’t need to be difficult
A common concern for all digital-related projects is how difficult (and costly) they are to set up, but digitization doesn’t need to be complicated.
You can start low-tech: Even an online Excel sheet with basic information can start your digitization journey. The only complication you’ll need to think about is subheadings in the document.
You can start with a single project: Digitization doesn’t need to start with the whole shop. Even if you just digitized one type of record or all records for one single project, you’ll start to notice the benefits and can add from there.
You can leverage purpose-built technologies: If you want more assistance, use purpose-built shop digitization technologies that are designed to show you exactly what data to input for maximum impact.
You deserve time back
Digitization isn’t about buzzwords, it’s about giving you time back in your day. If you’re swamped with work or not sure about the potential, start small - it’s easy to see some benefits to build your own business case.
It’s also tempting to think about the potential, get excited, but go back to your regular workday. Don’t fall for this temptation. Invest a small amount of energy now to save time and energy in the future. Then use that time and energy to grow your shop, build a better work life balance for your employees, and take the time you deserve back in your day.