Digital transformation will leave legacy systems behind

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In an industry committed to speed, precision, and waste reduction, it’s incumbent upon aerospace and defence manufacturers to lead the game when it comes to embracing cutting-edge technology.

Astute manufacturers know they must embrace digital transformation to stay competitive in Industry 4.0. For many, however, the path to success is hindered by legacy systems that were designed to meet the needs of an era that has long since passed.

As progress speeds forward, adaptation often means implementing new software and processes on top of existing frameworks – leading to massive, disconnected systems that don’t work as efficiently as they could. A 2016 GT Nexus survey found that only 5 per cent of executives felt very satisfied with their current digital progress, although 75 per cent felt digital transformation was necessary for their supply chains. This is an enormous disparity.

Your legacy system may be the most significant barrier to your business’ successful digital transformation. Once you consider what’s needed to compete in Industry 4.0, it’s not hard to see why.

Legacy systems don’t integrate with IoT

Industry 4.0 emphasizes interconnectedness. The future of manufacturing will see nearly all equipment and devices connected online via the Internet of Things (IoT), communicating with each other to streamline processes and share information across all stages of production. Without the functionality to connect via IoT, a legacy system will be out of sync with real-time operations, hindering communication between points of the production process.

One of the most significant benefits IoT brings to manufacturers is real-time feedback on production processes. With online equipment that can feed your enterprise resource planning (ERP) system information on the status of production, your staff can receive alerts of malfunctions, errors, or damaged products and respond instantly.

Legacy systems that require manual monitoring and cannot tap into IoT will only slow the rate of communication. It’s like handing one team member a landline telephone while the rest of the team communicates via mobile text messages.

Legacy systems hinder efficiency

Hanging onto outdated legacy systems puts your business at risk of falling victim to “complexity creep” – a roadblock caused by implementing new technologies on top of outdated ones. Legacy systems weren’t designed to communicate with IoT devices or integrate with modern ERP systems because when they were built, those concepts did not exist. Trying to bridge the gap by adding these new technologies alongside the old ones creates a disjointed and sometimes counterintuitive process.

Efficiency on the modern factory floor relies on interconnectivity, ERP systems that integrate across all stages of production, and more extensive accessibility of real-time information. As we move forward, “smart” equipment will be able to correct errors independently, according to pre-set parameters that help the machine define flaws and determine resolutions. This will reduce equipment downtime, the volume of unusable goods produced, and the personnel needed to manage production errors.

This is a level of efficiency no legacy system can keep up with.

Legacy systems can’t offer full supply-chain visibility

Industry 4.0 demands supply chain visibility throughout production, from the ordering and receiving of raw materials all the way to shipment to the customer. With the benefit of information transparency and interconnectedness, modern systems will give manufacturers the flexibility to accommodate changes in supply, production, and product design with very little waste or downtime by pinpointing exactly where errors, delays, or roadblocks occur.

Legacy systems simply can’t match the bird's-eye view of production that newer, more advanced systems offer. Without transparency throughout the supply chain, the process of identifying and correcting errors is slowed, and companies will quickly fall behind competitors who can make adjustments on the fly with real-time visibility. Wouldn’t you like to know you’ll be receiving a shipment late before the expected delivery day comes and it simply doesn’t arrive?

It’s not just about visibility during production. The speed and accuracy of your responses to customers is imperative as well. With IoT enabling connectedness between devices and ERP systems allowing real-time communication between parties all over the globe, customers have come not only to appreciate quick response times but expect them. Manufacturers must implement systems that enable them to respond to customer requests and issues quickly or risk losing a client to a competitor who responds faster.

Legacy systems don’t support fast decision making

One of the cornerstones of digital transformation is the capability for manufacturers to collect and analyse vast amounts of data, enabling faster and more accurate decision making.

With the sheer volume of digital information increasing at a rapid rate, manufacturers struggle to interpret the masses of data at their disposal. Modern ERP systems have made this much more manageable, delivering relevant information and data analysis at a moment’s notice, giving manufacturers the tools and insights to improve workflow, eliminate waste, and boost Overall Equipment Effectiveness (OEE). Legacy systems, which often require a manual assessment of data, don’t offer this sort of context. They simply can’t keep up.

The data available to manufacturers in the smart era promotes more accuracy in predictive analysis, allowing businesses to make adjustments to production processes or strategies based on reliable predictions. Without accurate and relevant data, manufacturers resort to making decisions based on intuition and assumptions – decisions that lack concrete insight.

There’s no room for legacy systems in Industry 4.0

Where legacy systems may have survived through advancements in equipment and automation a decade ago, maintaining some functionality alongside new technology, the digital transformation required to succeed today is too advanced for legacy systems to fit in.

A recent Gartner survey reports that “product improvement and technology are the biggest rising priorities for CEOs in 2017,” and rightfully so. With a heavy focus on technology that supports interconnectedness, automated efficiency, full supply chain visibility, and data-driven decision making, legacy systems made for a prior era will only hold a company back from reaching its full potential. Manufacturers who move away from outdated systems, replacing them with integrated IoT and ERP solutions, will grab hold of the market faster and with more flexibility than those who cling to their legacy systems.

Aaron Continelli, president, Cre8tive Technology and Design
Image Credit: Konica Minolta Business Solutions UK