11 May 2022

Digitalisation of French factories

At a time when the war in Ukraine has highlighted Hexagone's dependence on its European neighbors, the French government needs to step up its efforts to reindustrialize. This theme, which was already on the agenda during Emmanuel Macron's first term in office, is now more topical than ever. To make progress in this direction, it is important to understand the needs of France's industrial players, and the challenges they face for the future.

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

Digitalisation: France lags behind

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

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

Digitalisation of French factories

43.3% 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 players generally consider their factories to be poorly, if at all, digitized. Before we look at the direct consequences, let's see what factors influence this score.

According to a large majority of respondents, this difficulty in advancing towards digital transformation stems in particular from the use ofdigital tools deemed unsuitable. Excel comes to mind in particular. The spreadsheet, whose primary function is to create spreadsheets, is used for many other tasks, such as planning and skills tracking.

In fact, it takes an average of 25 Excels files to organize the field teams of a 100-person plant! When we asked participants if they experienced any difficulties in the day-to-day management of their teams, we got 86% "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 aspiring to greater agility. Scheduling optimization comes second, followed by versatility management.

Finally, we asked industrial managers what indicators they should be monitoring to achieve operational excellence. For 37% of them, the first metric to monitor is the versatility rate. This rate represents a team's ability to deal with unforeseen events (such as the absence of an operator).

What can we conclude from these figures? How does France rank globally? In 2020, BloombergNEF ranked the 10 countries most advanced in industrial digital transformation. On the podium were South Korea, Singapore and Germany, leaving France in 8th position. Let's take a look at why it's in France's interest to accelerate its digital transformation. 

The challenges: between productivity and competitivity

It's no secret that a majority of industrial players are still in the "paper age", which leads to sluggish, unagile processes. Indeed, it's hard to be responsive when information is organized in silos, and managers lack visibility over data.

It is therefore vital for manufacturers to speed up their digitalization projects if they are to prosper. The use of new technologies not only brings with it a new way of working, but also a significant gain in efficiency.

On the production side, digital tools not only help toanticipate breakdowns and line stoppages, but also to easily identify anomalies so that they can be quickly corrected. These improvements can be measured by indicators such as maintenance costs, yield and scrap rates. Digitization is also an opportunity to give power back to operators. With the right tools, it's possible to monitor production line operations live. Decision-making is thus based on quality information. Operators are also freed from certain repetitive, low-value-added tasks, allowing them to concentrate on other, more rewarding missions. One example is line operators, who often spend a lot of time entering data on sheets of paper or in spreadsheets. Thanks to digital tools, these indicators are updated automatically, enabling better management of priorities.

If the Factory 4.0 era is driving productivity gains, it's also enabling a better strategic vision. Indeed, in the industrial sector, achieving operational excellence depends on effective management of Human Resources, which is not always an easy task.

As our survey underlines, skills management is one of the main difficulties identified by managers. It seems complicated for them to know exactly which skills have been mastered by operators. In 2022, this is still done via Excel spreadsheets, which are difficult to update. The result: a lack of visibility on skills, training and recruitment needs (as we discussed in our article on skills and versatility management). And yet, a competitive company needs to be able to make the best possible use of the resources at its disposal, and have a strategic vision of its future needs.

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

Analyse, extract and measure the performance of your teams
Dashboard created with Mercateam  

In summary

France's reindustrialization will not be sustainable without adopting the digital tools already favored by world leaders. In addition to the modernization of production lines, digital transformation concerns all business sectors. To be competitive, industrial players need to equip themselves with tools that enable them to have a strategic vision, in terms of both processes and people. Managing skills and training needs are key issues in the relocation process begun a few years ago.

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