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Digital disruption – the new normal for business

Digitalization is on the rise and altering the face of business and society. Having worked in manufacturing for over 30 years, I’ve certainly witnessed plenty of change in my time, but none as fast and dramatic as we see today.

Presenting both an opportunity and challenge in equal measure, the speed of digital change is bringing disruption like we have never seen before. Just think Uber, Air BNB and Amazon to name just a few brands, changing both the landscape of business and home!

As we move on from the era of steam, electricity and automation and embark on the 4th Industrial Revolution (digital), our aim is to be at the forefront of innovation, pioneering change and essentially making things easier for both our customers and people. And with a heritage of more than 165 years, we are continually looking forward, working with our customers while supporting them in their own digital journey. So, how are we doing it?

At Siemens, digitalization is being embraced in many ways, offering benefits that include flexible production, greater productivity, the development of new business models and the customization of bespoke solutions for customers. Our focus is on four main areas; the digital factory and manufacturing, data and technology, customer services and our employees.

Now while we are not in the game of replacing our human counterparts with the android variety, in a bid to take productivity to the next level, we are proud to have become the first company in the UK to use innovative LEO Locative robots in our factory in Lincoln. Welcome additions to the Siemens family, LEO moves parts within our new warehouse at Teal Park. This has saved on operating time and is helping us become more competitive in a global market place.

Additive manufacturing (or 3D printing as it is more commonly known) is another area helping Siemens become more competitive while also adding value to our supply chain. The process which is revolutionizing the manufacture and repair of components is improving the design and performance of parts like never before. Serviced by Siemens Materials Solutions factory in Worcester, no longer are design engineers restricted by manufacturing assembly methods – if you can draw it, we can print it!

AM parts are being used in a number of applications including our gas turbines to improve functionality and as Steppenwolf once sang has also helped us “Get the motor runnin” of two Siemens’ 100- year old Ruston Cars. Pretty impressive!

Importance of Data

It’s true to say that data has probably become the most important asset for any company. Siemens is no different. That said, the benefits a company can achieve from data, can only be harnessed if the data is good quality and interpreted correctly.

Our Remote Monitoring Systems linked to our gas turbines help us process over 15 million fired hours of engine data and it’s this information that is helping us to optimise their operation, predicting issues before they happen and reducing field issues by an impressive 50%.

Interpreting the data is important and our MindSphere lab within the University of Lincoln is helping harness the data gathered from machines.

Created by Siemens, MindSphere is a version of a cloud-based operating service that allows any machine or equipment to connect with it and share its data.

Collaboration has been key to the project involving the work of students, academics and our own staff to harness the power of the technology which is now being used successfully in several of our applications.

For example, we have recently connected our CNC machines from Teal Park to MindSphere and we hope to learn how to operate and maintain those machines more efficiently from the data provided.

But, when you access apps and online services for things like banking, we need to look at how we use digital technology to add value to customers. Key to this is the development of a customer portal and a tool called ‘MyHealth’. Accessed via a mobile phone, the portal allows customers to request quotes, book training and access product information. MyHealth is invaluable in providing customers with relevant operational data for their units and more visibility of their product performance.

Digitally enabled employees

Upskilling and empowering our staff to be part of driving through change and innovation is an ongoing focus at Siemens. From virtual training programs for global field teams to reverse mentoring programmes which facilitate learning and the sharing of skills be that digital or otherwise, have been hugely beneficial.

We’re a traditional business and if we’re to embrace new technologies we need to use our younger employees to help us on the journey. Last year, Siemens ran a global event called FutureLand – a two-day innovation event for employees to celebrate, reward and nurture the ideas of employees.

I’m delighted to say that a team from Lincoln entered called LincUp and won the competition with their project HELGA. This certainly was a proud moment for all of us here in Lincoln!

Similar to an ‘Alexa’ style concept, HELGA is a digital assistant idea for the manufacturing environment which helps reduce the admin and paperwork involved in building engines, resulting in quicker intelligence and improved efficiency. HELGA is generating a lot of interest across the business and is now being trialed in our factory.

A key learning from the FutureLand project is the importance of embracing the ideas of the new generation, allowing them to take the lead and giving them the freedom to create! The LincUp graduates are now part of a new Digital team we have set up in the company to help drive our transformation and they, like others, will help us massively on our journey.

You don’t have to look very far to see newspaper headlines that suggest the fourth industrial revolution is solely about machines and technology. This is true of course to an extent, but I believe in this increasingly digital world, people, skills and collaboration are even more important than ever before. Whatever we do, we must do it together, evolving, embracing change and breaking down boundaries.

Together the impossible is possible. We have certainly come a long way in a short space of time and I’m excited to see what the future holds.