After discussing the implementation of new business models during the 4th session of the L-DIH Talks, the 5th one, held on 7 May, explored new ways to attack markets and develop business activities.
This includes strategic planning to set overall objectives and the roadmap to achieve them. It is also a way to review one’s priorities and manage day-to-day operations.
“Implementing an advanced production planning can change the game in order to win new markets,” explained first Stéphane Klang, one of the partners of the consulting firm Traxxion.
In the current context of a great increase in product diversity and specific customer demands, but decreasing volumes, production cycles are still often planned using simple spreadsheets, which makes lead times more uncertain.
In order to successfully implement projects by focusing on the main differentiating factors (responsiveness, price, quality, connectivity, etc.), three major pillars must be considered: quality, the implementation of a strategy and perseverance in one’s ambitions. “This requires well-established business processes, well-trained teams with a strong corporate culture and solid planning tools,” said Mr Klang.
Good planning means, for example, preferring an end-to-end approach rather than just production planning; involving all resources and not focusing only on bottlenecks; or treating all orders equally and not just those that are a high priority or represent high volumes. This can lead to savings in time and money.
“This can also be done by carrying out simulations based on scenarios. It is crucial to bear in mind that everything must be organised around the delivery date, which is the only one that counts for the customer.”
Such an approach goes far beyond the implementation of software, “which will never be anything more than a simple tool,” Mr Klang warned. “The key is to be assisted in day-to-day decision-making, with maximum flexibility that takes into account the complexity of the order execution processes and the variable number of orders. A company manager already spends a lot of time dealing with day-to-day business. He has no time to spend putting out fires. So it’s best to make sure they don’t happen.”
When it comes to business development, it is also possible to be innovative, said Fabrice Croiseaux, CEO of IT services company InTech. “Innovation is not only there to develop new technologies or new products. It can also be used to find new customers, to build a better image and to increase its attractiveness. In addition, it can be used to create new networks and to meet new business partners.”
He also identifies three pillars for the successful implementation of innovation approaches: curiosity (through R&D, technological and information watch, experience sharing, etc.), creativity (ideation process, prototyping, etc.) and action. “The danger is to remain at the stage of ideas, without going through a concrete phase.”
From inspiration to implementation, the process must go through several phases which include, for example, prototyping or concept validation. But in the end, it is not just a question of measuring the return on investment from a financial point of view. “The main return on investment lies in the multiplication of customer contacts and the development of the company’s image. A company that is creative and innovative in its business approach is perceived differently in the market. And that can’t be counted in man-days.”
Putting in place such a process can be done quite quickly. “From the first phase to the prototype, it takes two to three weeks,” Mr Croiseaux said. “After that, the prototype phase can take up to two months to reach a finished version. It can even lead to the creation of a new specific business.”
… and knowledge
Access to new business opportunities can also be achieved through a better knowledge of one’s digital environment. Especially at a time when the digitalisation of companies is no longer an option and when Industry 4.0 approaches are multiplying. “91% of SMEs are willing to engage in a digital transformation, and 56% see this as an opportunity,” explained Laurène Hume, R&D Consultant at Actimage Digital Intelligence, a consulting firm specialised in digital transformation. “However, 54% of them do not have dedicated teams.”
The figures are there: there are more than 20 billion connected objects in the world and the virtual reality market is expected to represent in 2021 no less than 215 billion dollars.
For any company wishing to embark on such a journey, it is necessary to take stock of its technological situation and identify the most advanced technologies and those best suited to its own needs.
“But it’s not just about looking at machines and objects, but also at people,” explained Ms Hume. “Being able to extend one’s networks makes it possible to envisage fruitful partnerships and, consequently, to envisage new markets.” This is particularly the case when companies join consortia, thus accessing opportunities that they might not have thought of at the outset.
Finally, knowledge of the context is also to be considered. “You have to take into account not only your own internal data and information, but also what is happening elsewhere. The current situation is very telling: we realise how much the context of the COVID-19 epidemic is a source of reflection and new ways of doing things, especially in the digital field.”
An in-depth analysis of available data is also a way to better understand one’s environment, clients, strengths and weaknesses. “It can help identify what can be done in the future and what can positively impact the business.”
Ceratizit: personalisation taken to the extreme
As always, this L-DIH Talk ended with the testimony of an industrial company that has successfully implemented a digital transformation process. This is the case of Ceratizit, the producer of carbide tools for cutting and wear protection. “We already had an online ordering platform, e-techstore, through which it was possible to order any part from our catalogue. But this only concerned ‘standard’ parts. We therefore had to adapt this tool to the increasingly specific and tailor-made demands of our customers.”
Going through a “traditional” route means exchanging with a sales advisor, product manager and/or engineer before being able to consider production. “But this upstream process takes an enormous amount of time and we wanted to radically improve it, in order to reduce sales-related costs as well,” explained Laurent Federspiel, Head of Operational Excellence at Ceratizit.
An online configurator has been developed that allows customers to define the product they want, its dimensions and the desired quantity themselves. A two-dimensional illustration is then sent to the customers, who can validate the offer and place the order whenever they wish. “This order is directly transmitted to our ERP system and in 80% of the cases, the production process can start in an automated way, without any human intervention. Of course, teams remain available to provide personalised support if required.”
The system looks very simple on the surface, but the reality of its implementation is much less so. Because it impacts several layers in automated processes: production control software, control and data acquisition systems, programmable logic or automation controllers, sensors, actuators, etc. “There is no single standard in our machine park. Each of them has specific access to the systems. Achieving such an evolution was therefore something complicated and delicate, especially with machines that have been in operation for many years. But this is exactly the challenge of Industry 4.0,” Mr Federspiel concluded.