Digital Transformation Roles and Responsibilities in Manufacturing

Where do we start in digitizing our manufacturing operations? one may ask. While there is no easy answer, the solution lies in starting not from the top down, but from the ground up, focusing on the digital transformation roles and responsibilities of the key people in your plant.

Process manufacturing digital transformation is not only a priority, but now an essential step forward as the world encounters and adapts to a more digital world. To put it simply if you do not adjust your processes to embrace digital change, your competitors will (and may already have) outproduce, outshine and outsell you.

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Successful Digital Transformation For Teams

Digital change has been slow until now though it has been steady. PLC and DCS systems were manufacturing’s digital beginnings and thankfully there is so much more available now to further digitize operations and minimize downtime, improve your process, enhance data management, data sharing reporting and increase profitability. A truly connected enterprise will be adaptable and agile, allowing it to keep abreast of changes in the operating environment.

Plant roles play an essential part in the digitization of process manufacturing and all can contribute to a seamless digital transformation within your facility. Each role embraces digital change and transforms the process from the inside out. By focusing on these roles and the duties and responsibilities within each of them, plant digitization can lead to a well-oiled machine whose comprehensive outcomes depend on and benefit from.

dataPARC graphic of a showing OEE information and trends on top with a diagram of a paper machine in the bottom half.

Integrate digital technologies through dashboards like this to provide an innovative solution for process monitoring. It offers an overview of the process with trends, enhancing the digital experience for teams in the digital era.

Where do we start in digitizing our operations? one may ask. While there is no easy answer, the solution does lie in starting not from the top down, but from the ground up, with each role’s responsibilities and contributions enhancing the other, adding to and building on the next, for a comprehensive digital enterprise and solid, data-based reporting.

Integrating sources of plant data is a good place to start, along with the processes themselves becoming digitized for maximum outcomes. In this article we will focus on the various roles in the plant, their responsibilities and how each one can contribute to digital transformation.

Digital Transformation Roles & Responsibilities

The Operator

The Operator’s Role in Digital Transformation Initiatives

Checking process conditions (temperatures, pressures, line speed, etc.) are an essential task for an operator. These process conditions could have readings directly on the machine with valves or buttons to adjust as needed. With more and more digital transformation in manufacturing these process variables are being set up with PLCs to create a digital tag. This tag can be read through an OPCDA server and visualized throughout the plant on computers, in offices, control rooms and meeting rooms. They can also be set up with a DCS to control the process from the control room rather than having to walk the floor to adjust speeds or valves.

The process variables need to be monitored to produce quality products. There are ranges for each process variable and additive when making a product, if these get out of range, the final product could be outside the final specification. Limits can be drawn on gauges, written in an SOP (Standard Operating Procedure) or set up as limits for alarming. These alarms could appear either on the DCS or data visualization screen to alert the operator a variable needs attention.

a 3 by 4 multi trend with process data in each trend.

Leveraging digital tools, operators monitor the process through trends and graphics, ensuring optimal performance and quick identification of any deviations.

To consistently make quality products, operators must communicate with the lab tech to verify the product is within spec. This communication between the lab and operators has been traditionally done through verbal communication, walkie-talkies, phone calls, etc. To digitize this process, the lab tech enters tested values into a data visualization program or a lab information management system (LIMS) database. These values can be displayed on the dashboard with the specifications next to them. The operator can then see when specification values are out of spec and adjust the process, or when values are trending up/down and adjust the process to keep the product within specification before making bad quality product.

Operators are also responsible for keeping track of a product and lot being produced. This can be done manually with pen and paper or entered digitally into a database.

At the end of the shift, operators need to pass key information to the next shift. This can be done with a hand-off meeting to verbally discuss, a physical notebook to log key points or a digitalized version of a notebook. With digitalized versions of reports, there is an opportunity to relay information to multiple control rooms or locations of the company’s operations at once.

The Lab Technician

The Lab Technician’s Role in Digital Transformation Initiatives

Lab quality testing is an essential part of process manufacturing. Thorough testing of each batch quality results allows for production of the scheduled product. Because other roles such as process engineer and operator rely on the outcomes of lab testing, getting the lab quality data seamlessly disseminated is essential to smooth operations.

Testing multiple variables of the product and comparing it to specifications, manually testing the product, recording the result, and manually comparing the finished product to specifications are among the lab technician’s duties. If the lab tech is entering data into a digital system, limits can typically be saved for different products, speeding things up.

manual data entry screen, grid. Showing numeric, text and calculated cells.

Integrating digital technologies like LIMS, the lab enhances areas of digital transformation by streamlining data entry and analysis for improved accuracy and efficiency.

The lab tech would manually test the product, enter the results in a program, and the LIMS system would flag if the result were out of spec. Furthermore, a lab tech can set up the test, a machine conducts the test, the result is then fed to the LIMS system where the value would be flagged if the test is out of spec. performing these tasks digitally is a tremendous time saver and process.

In summary, lab techs are ultimately responsible for testing the final product and passing or failing it to be sold. Digitizing these tests and the corresponding data streamlines and accelerates the entire lab test process.

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The Process Engineer

The Process Engineer’s Role in Digital Transformation Initiatives

Process Engineers, often called by other titles including chemical engineers, often have a range of duties including product development, process optimization, documentation of SOPs, setting up automatic controls/PLCs, ensuring equipment reliability, communicating with superintendents, operators, lab techs, maintenance managers and customers.

Process engineers monitor manufacturing processes daily, weekly, and monthly to identify improvement opportunities and evaluate asset conditions. Maintenance requests can be managed through physical systems, emails with attached pictures, or advanced digital platforms. Digitizing maintenance helps create a preventive schedule, ensuring timely replacements and maintaining product quality.

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Another way for engineers to monitor the process is through data visualization. When data is stored, the history can be viewed, and users can identify irregularities, trends, and cycles in the process to help identify root cause when upsets occur. Engineers might set up their own alarms, separate from operator alarms, to keep track of events and determine if an optimization project is possible.

Process optimization and product development are important tasks for process engineers. They often use the Six Sigma DMAIC (Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve, Control) method to do this. The Define step is typically completed by a stakeholder, a superintendent or plant manager. Once the project is defined the engineer moves into the measure step.

The measure step can take many forms, physically measuring, counting, or documenting a process. Collecting necessary data can be time-consuming. With more of the data being digitized, data collection is already done.

Engineers need to organize and collect data to analyze it. Once the data is collected it can be put into Excel, Minitab, or other programs to be analyzed. By doing comparisons and statistical analysis, with the help of process knowledge, an improvement plan can be created.

Excel add-in with a trend of the tags in the excel data pull in front of it.

Leveraging emerging technologies, process engineers pull data from data visualization systems and utilize the Excel Add-In for real-time monitoring and in-depth analysis.

Engineers will work with operators and lab techs to work through their improvement plan. Typically, the plans will include information that the operators and lab techs will have to record to give back to the engineer to determine if an improvement was made. The plans can be printed off and handed to those involved, and the necessary data collected on sheets of paper.

If a program/graphic/database was being used then the engineer could create an improvement plan within said program, then the operator/lab tech could enter necessary values directly, making the data accessible instantly to the engineer. After the project is complete and an improvement is made, an SOP is written and saved.

In this role, the engineer must communicate changes to all necessary personnel. The SOP can be saved locally, in shared files, on SharePoint, or within versioned programs. To alert others of changes, an email can be sent to supervisors or a digital notebook message can be sent with a link to the updated SOP.

Engineers are responsible for writing and maintaining SOPs, which can be stored in binders, control room computers, or shared folders. Programs can track document versions and changes. Operators and lab techs use SOPs for tasks or testing and must be notified of updates. Notifications can be sent via email or set up on operators’ computers.

The Plant Manager

The Plant Manager’s Role in Digital Transformation Initiatives

Plant managers wear many hats and the hats they wear continue to multiply as plants face complexities and pressure to produce more with increased profitability.

Hiring good people – the key to running a digital forward organization is staffing with people in mind. Good, productive people run plants with data, not hunches or best guesses. They make data driven decisions that are the best for the organization and identify root causes through careful anomaly detection and analysis.

Good leaders know that to truly digitize operations at a plant you must start from the bottom and that every role is an important component to the whole and every person’s contribution important.

Ron Baldus, CTO at dataPARC, advises “Clean data” is the key to successful digital operations. What exactly does clean data mean, one might ask? Clean data is the pure data, data-driven data, not hunch-driven data and the one version of the truth. With clean data plant managers and those who work for them can continue to make data and profit driven decisions.

A good data visualization software that connects all data sources is a good place to start. With this connected software, extensive reports pulling on many data sources can be run to give the plant manager a key report with important information visible. If there is a problem in the operations, this reporting can allow the plant manager to identify the problem and task his engineers and operators with getting to the source and making the necessary adjustments, all based on fact and not best guesses.

Customized mill overview dashboard displaying information with images such as tank levels from digesters, along with many numeric values and buttons leading to other pages.

With a process mill overview, plant managers gain a deep understanding of business processes, allowing them to align operations with business needs and support project managers in achieving strategic goals.

Plant managers know that there are many important moving parts to a plant operation and getting reliable data is the lifeblood of a successful, profitable operation. The more digital the plant becomes, the cleaner data flows to all departments and roles and allows troubleshooting, reporting, and forecasting to be more and more seamless.

Another advantage to digitization at the plant manager level is transferring of skill, information, and expertise at the subject matter expert SME level. Many SMEs are getting close to retirement and in them a wealth of information, experience and methodology that is at risk of being lost. Through the digitization of reports and operations, the methods can be preserved and passed on to the next person assuming the role and responsibility, whether it an operator or an engineer or other essential role.

Preparing for Digital Transformation At Your Site

Whether it is the operator, the engineer, the lab tech or the plant manager, all digital transformation roles and responsibilities in manufacturing contribute to the transformation of the plant. From the bottom up with effective communication and consistent data, downtime can be minimized, golden runs are more common and seamless operations a daily reality.

See how Energy Transfer underwent a complete Digital Transformation, saving time, money and enabling better decion making.


Who should be responsible for digital transformation initiatives in a manufacturing setting?

In a manufacturing setting, digital transformation initiatives should be managed with cross functional teams. Key responsibilities typically lie with senior leadership, such as the Chief Digital Officer (CDO) or Chief Information Officer (CIO), to align digital technology and tools with the business strategy.

Additionally, department heads, including operations, IT, and engineering, should collaborate to ensure the seamless integration of digital tools and technologies across the organization. This collective approach ensures that digital transformation aligns with overall business goals and drives meaningful change.

Are digital transformation specialists or digital transformation managers necessary?

Yes, digital transformation specialists or managers are essential for effectively navigating the complexities of modernizing legacy systems and integrating new technologies. These roles are crucial for strategic planning and aligning digital initiatives with organizational functions.

Technology leaders in these positions drive business growth by ensuring seamless implementation and adoption of digital tools, optimizing processes, and fostering innovation. Their expertise helps the organization stay competitive and responsive to market changes.

What key performance indicators are used to measure the success of digital transformation initiatives?

Key performance indicators (KPIs) for digital transformation initiatives include:

  • Operational Efficiency: Measures improvements in processes and productivity driven by digital tools.
  • Data Analytics Utilization: Tracks the extent to which data analytics are used to inform decisions.
  • Adoption Rate: Assesses how quickly and effectively the digital transformation team integrates new technologies across business operations.
  • Business Growth: Monitors increases in revenue, market share, and other growth metrics linked to digital initiatives.

Digital Transformation Roadmap

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