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11 May 2022

Digitalisation of French factories

While the war in Ukraine has highlighted France's dependence on its European neighbours, the state must accelerate its efforts to reindustrialise. This theme, which was already on the agenda during Emmanuel Macron's first term in office, is now more topical than ever. In order to move forward in this direction, it is important to understand the needs of French industrial actors and the future challenges that arise from them.

In the era of the 4.0 Factory, the dynamism of our production lines goes hand in hand with the digitalisation of our know-how. What is the situation in France? Can we say that our factories are on a par with those of our German neighbour?
To get a clearer picture, we asked 100 French industrial managers to share their vision of digitalisation

Digitalisation: France lags behind

For our study, we approached a panel of industrial managers, plant managers and production managers. The sectors represented included food processing, automotive, aeronautics, metallurgy and pharmaceuticals. In terms of workforce, the participants manage on average between 50 and 500 people.

We asked our survey participants to give a score out of 10 about the state of plant digitalisation in their sector.

Digitalisation of French factories

43.3% of them give a score of 3/10, a relatively low score. The highest score, 6/10, was given by only 13.3% of participants.

The figures speak for themselves: French industrial actors generally consider factories to be poorly, or even very poorly, digitalised. Before we look at the direct consequences, let's see which factors influence this score.

According to a large majority of respondents, this difficulty in making progress towards digital transformation stems in particular from the use ofdigital tools that are deemed unsuitable. Excel comes to mind in particular. This tool, which primary function is to produce spreadsheets, is used for many other tasks such as planning or monitoring skills.

In fact, there are on average 25 Excels files to organise the field teams of a 100-person factory! When we asked the participants if they felt that they had difficulties in the daily management of the teams, we obtained 86% of "yes".

86% of industrial managers find it difficult to manage their teams.

At the top of the list of management-related obstacles is skills management, a strategic element for any company that aspires to greater agility. The optimisation of planning comes in second place, followed by the management of versatility.

Finally, we asked industry managers which metrics they use to achieve operational excellency. For 37% of them, the first metric to be monitored is the versatility rate. We recall that this rate represents the capacity of a team to deal with an unexpected event (for example, the absence of an operator).

What can we conclude from these figures? How is France positioned at the global level? In 2020, BloombergNEF carried out a ranking of the 10 most advanced countries in industrial digital transformation. On the podium were South Korea, Singapore and Germany, leaving France in 8th position. Let's now see why France has every interest in accelerating its digital transformation. 

The challenges: between productivity and competitivity

It is no secret that a majority of industrial actors are still in the "paper age", which leads to slowness and a lack of agility in their processes. Indeed, it is complicated to be reactive when information is organised in silos and managers lack visibility on data.

It is therefore vital that manufacturers speed up their digitalisation projects if they are to prosper. If the use of new technologies goes hand in hand with a new way of working, it also allows for a significant gain in efficiency.

On the production side, digital tools make it possible to anticipate breakdowns and line stoppages, but also to easily identify anomalies in order to correct them quickly. These improvements can be measured by indicators such as maintenance costs, yield rate and scrap rate. Digitalisation is also an opportunity to give power back to employees. Indeed, with the right tools, it is possible to monitor the operations of production lines live. Decision-making is thus based on quality information. Employees are also freed from certain repetitive tasks with little added value to concentrate on other, more rewarding, missions. One example is line operators, who often spend a lot of time entering data on  paper or in spreadsheets. Thanks to digital tools, the updating of these indicators is done automatically, allowing for better management of priorities.

If the 4.0 Factory era favours productivity gains, it also allows for a better strategic vision. Indeed, in the industrial sector, achieving operational excellency relies on effective management of Human Resources, which is not always an easy task.

This is what our survey underlines: skills management is one of the main difficulties identified by managers. It seems complicated for them to know exactly which skills are mastered by their employees. In 2022, this monitoring is still done via Excel spreadsheets, which are difficult to update. The consequences: a lack of visibility regarding skills, training and recruitment needs (we talked about this in our article dedicated to skills and versatility management). However, a company that wants to be competitive must be able to make the best use of the resources it has and have a strategic vision of its future needs.

Thus, the digitalisation of factories is not limited to production lines. All trades are concerned. From a managerial point of view, the use of a digital solution makes it possible, for example, to map employees' skills precisely, to simply manage schedules, to reduce the use of Excel spreadsheets or to generate dashboards. Decision-making is thus based on up-to-date, easy-to-view information.

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In summary

The reindustrialisation of France will not be sustainable without adopting the digital tools already favoured by the world leaders. Beyond the modernisation of production lines, it is all trades that are affected by digital transformation. To be competitive, industrial players must equip themselves with tools that enable them to have a strategic vision, both in terms of processes and in terms of people. Thus, the management of skills and training needs are key issues in the relocation that began a few years ago.

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