Modernizing operations at small shops

Departments - 1 Last Look

Steps to help make the move to digitalization as easy and fail-proof as possible.

November 7, 2019


How can smaller shops, mold-makers, and toolmakers begin their march toward digitalization? First – become informed by reading trade magazines. They demonstrate much of the emerging technology, often with real-world examples of shop floors that are actually implementing it. Dedicate one person at your shop to learn about digitalization – someone in your organization with an open mind who will become knowledgeable about what digitalization means for your operation.

It’s all about connectivity, gathering data, and analyzing that data to develop a smart action plan. You also need to make yourself comfortable with the buzzwords and acronyms – overall equipment effectiveness (OEE), Big Data, Industry 4.0, mean time between failure (MTBF) – so you can sense which direction to head.

Most shops have been gathering data and logging it in a production-schedule format, so digitalization and a focus on data is not entirely new.

The second step is to find a partner – someone to guide you from initial evaluation to implementation. Be sure it’s someone who knows your industry, because that will reduce startup time. It’s critical that this person or advising group knows your process flow and has the trust of your entire organization.

Siemens’ Mindsphere group offers many solution partners. A good partner may be someone already advising you on your CNC machines. They can visit Siemens to learn about digitalization, and then they’ll go to your shop with a proposed solution.

Next, find someone within your shop to be your digitalization consultant. Don’t think about all your equipment at the beginning, start with one or two machines where you want to get data and begin tracking. Talk to all machine operators and get them onboard so they know what is happening. Place a large display in the middle of the shop where everybody can see the data you’re capturing and ask why it’s red or green. Let everyone have access to the entire process, so they buy into it. Get their reactions, and they may come up with questions about why key data aren’t showing on the screen.

Talk daily about the data. People will ask questions and have different opinions on what data are being tracked, why a certain value isn’t shown, or why cycle times are varying on the same part on the same machine. Their input and collaboration will lead to the first return on your investment.

So, inform yourself, get a strong partner, ask actively for highly visible data, and dedicate one person inside your organization who drives the entire process.

The old Chinese proverb says the journey of 1,000 miles begins with a single step. Take it.

Siemens Industry Inc. Digital Industries – Motion Control Machine Tool Systems

About the author: Ramona Schindler, general manager machine tool systems for Siemens Switzerland and can be reached at