Taking a deep digital breath

Thomas Wilk says strong leaders help take the pressure off of Industry 4.0.

By Thomas Wilk, editor in chief

This editor’s note is being written from Orlando, FL, the site of the 2019 ARC Industry Forum, and the theme of the event this year is “Driving Digital Transformation in Industry and Cities.”

The first day of the event is over, and the funniest line of the day referenced the recent Super Bowl telecast, an old-fashioned defensive (and analog) battle that was shared digitally with almost 100 million people: “When a beer commercial on the Super Bowl brags about how their brew process is enabled by wind power, you know industrial sustainability is here to stay.”

That link between digitization and commerce was underscored in a different way today by Craig Hayman, CEO of industrial software provider AVEVA. For the companies engaged in digital transformation, Hayman noted, “this is not just a technical journey – this is a commercial journey.”

This statement led off an explanation of how plant teams might navigate the many digital choices available to collect, process, and analyze data on asset health: Always let the business outcome drive the technical solution, instead of the other way around. It also was a welcome counterpoint to some industry conversations that I’ve heard over the past few years, where people are feeling a ton of pressure to keep up digitally.

The progress being made in the area of digital asset management is truly stunning, especially in the ability to construct virtual simulations of plant assets and processes. Digital twins, edge computing, smart sensors, data cleansing, cybersecurity – it’s nearly too much to take in, especially when your maintenance budget may not be all that grand to begin with, and your most senior people are itching to retire. 

This issue of Plant Services takes a deep breath, and focuses on cultivating the kind of leadership that will help see you through tech turbulence. Our cover story is an analog twin: In the first part, Phil Beelendorf shares how managers can develop a culture in which tomorrow’s leaders can be cultivated. Contributing editor Tom Moriarty then turns his focus on how to make current managers into even stronger leaders.

Several of our columnists this month also address how strong plant leadership drives digital competitiveness. In this month’s Your Space column, managing editor Christine LaFave Grace traces how greater representation of women in industrial leadership roles drives stronger financial returns, and our Big Picture Interview profiles Manhar Grewal, a Millennial engineer who shares his thoughts on how to onboard digital natives quickly. Even Captain Unreliability weighs in on the value TPM (totally poor management).

Conversations on digitalization are evolving, shifting from purely educational to how to match the right digital solution to your business need. If you have the leaders in place to drive those conversations, then keeping up with the digital Joneses will take care of itself.