Upgrading Automation and Digital Technology: A Manufacturing Manager’s Dilemma


Upgrading Automation and Digital Technology: A Manufacturing Manager’s Dilemma

Upgrading Automation and Digital Technology: A Manufacturing Manager’s Dilemma

It’s time to embrace automation and digital transformation to keep pace with Industry 4.0, overcome the challenge of buy-in, and reap the long-term benefits of improved productivity and profitability.


Manufacturing and production always strive to be lean and agile. Automation and controls help expedite workflows, garner intelligent data, and provide many efficiencies within manufacturing operations. However, upgrading automation and implementing a digital transformation can require investment, may sometimes be disruptive to your operation, and calls for specific knowledge and savvy to achieve such an objective. Plus, there’s one more obstacle in upgrading your automation landscape: attaining buy-in from others within the organization.

In the article “How to Upgrade Legacy Equipment for an Industry 4.0 Factory” by the International Society of Automation (ISA), the author lays out the importance of upgrading automation to keep pace with Industry 4.0. By embracing Industry 4.0 technology, manufacturers can transform their facilities into a unified network of assets, enabling seamless information sharing and improving operational efficiency. In a global manufacturing climate – where automation can lead to a competitive edge – it’s crucial to plan, budget, and carefully build strategies to replace legacy automation and controls with modern hardware and software platforms within your operational technology.

Keeping Pace with Industry 4.0

Many manufacturers have a mix of legacy and modern equipment. The average lifespan of equipment is about 15 years. After that, is it worth it to keep archaic equipment along with automation and controls, when doing so foregoes great opportunity? By embracing the latest technologies and advancements, engineers gain access to enhanced functionalities, improved performance, and increased efficiency. Modern equipment often comes with advanced automation capabilities, real-time data monitoring, and integration with digital systems, enabling streamlined workflows and optimized operations.This may sound like a familiar problem, as many manufacturing leaders face this dilemma. Existing capital equipment and automation will suffice, but there is a constant concern as to whether there is true payback on investing and upgrading automation. Is the outlay worth it to keep up with the momentum of Industry 4.0 and the gains that many of your competitors are making in investing automation upgrades? In most cases, the answer is yes. The fruit of such investment comes from the orchestration of the machines and equipment with smart manufacturing made possible by automation upgrades. 

In the absence of investment in Industry 4.0 technology, organizations continue to exist as a disconnected assortment of machines rather than a cohesive network of assets that share information. Upgrading from legacy equipment to modern equipment presents a pivotal opportunity for organizations to bridge the gap and transform into a unified, information-sharing network of assets, alleviating the time-consuming task of information hunting for engineers and driving the justification for Industry 4.0 retrofits. Engineers working in manufacturing environments dedicate a significant portion of their work hours searching for information, greatly supporting the case for Industry 4.0 retrofits.


The Challenge of “Buy-In”

The decision to upgrade digital technologies and embrace automation is not solely in the hands of manufacturing leadership; it involves key decision-makers such as CEOs, CIOs, CFOs, and other stakeholders across the organization. Achieving the goal of upgrading automation is a valuable investment, but it often comes with the challenge of garnering buy-in and convincing stakeholders of the significance of digital transformation.  

Often, they do not see such value at first and are reluctant to get behind capital outlays for digital transformations. This can mean that your legacy automation may stick around even longer, as your competitors move ahead.  

“Embracing Industry 4.0 is not just a necessity but a strategic move towards improved productivity and profitability. While there may be challenges in navigating the complexities of upgrading automation, the long-term benefits are undeniable,” says Rafael De Vega, an Industrial Automation lead at Omnicon. “By harnessing intelligent data and fostering connectivity, we help manufacturers unlock a cohesive network of technology and assets to propel operations forward. We look forward to embracing the opportunities of Industry 4.0, driving innovation and ensuring our client’s competitive edge in the global manufacturing landscape.”


Discerning the Value of Digital Transformation

The role of those who want to upgrade automation, and see the value in doing so, becomes one of finding a collection of use cases and business case analyses that underpin the value in this investment. They must discern the value of upgrading automation. 

It’s important to gather data and hard facts that can spell out how a digital transformation, made possible with upgraded automation, translates into benefits like uptime, productivity, greater throughput, lower maintenance costs, and helps provide data and intelligence that can catapult operational profitability.  

In the realm of digital transformation, manufacturing management and advocates of new operational technology and innovation play a crucial role in driving the adoption of Industry 4.0. They transition from their traditional “manufacturing/production manager” role to don the hat of a persuasive salesperson, leveraging their influence to secure buy-in and overcome the common dilemma surrounding digital transformation. 

Upgrading automation is a continuous challenge. There may be a steady flow of novel and innovative technology, but resources always seem to be limited. It’s important to be strategic in deploying the appropriate innovative automation and controls technology to harness digitalization that can transform your manufacturing processes. Understanding this challenge, and how to overcome it now, will pay production dividends in the short term and in the long term.

With over 30 years of experience in the industry, Omnicon is dedicated to assisting top-tier global manufacturing companies in developing practical roadmaps for real-world digital transformation. Our team will lead you through the process of defining your digital transformation strategy, drawing upon our extensive expertise in Industry 4.0 technologies, manufacturing operations management (MOM), industrial IT/OT network architecture, process control systems, and other relevant areas.

Contact us today to learn how our automation and digital transformation solutions can solve your manufacturing challenges of the new era!