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  • End-to-end digitisation in manufacturing: what's in a name?

  • Squadron has extensive experience in end-to-end digitisation. For our parent company STAS, manufacturer of trailers, self-unloaders and tippers, we implemented that concept in two factories. With success, as both were recognised as 'Factory of the Future' by technology federation Agoria.
    • We have therefore learned what the right methodologies are, what works and what does not, and where technology and software add value. We combine our practical experience in digitising processes with the expertise of highly skilled engineers, business analysts and software developers. Our input ensures that manufacturing companies can switch faster, make fewer mistakes in the process and increase their returns.

      End-to-end digitisation means we can smoothly handle the entire process of a product digitally, from the quotation meeting with the customer to the delivery of the final product. Most departments or disciplines within the organisation are involved: sales, engineering, purchasing, production, invoicing. Administration and paperwork are replaced to the maximum by software and online applications. This benefits quality, traceability and efficiency. Less paper equals fewer errors and less wasted time.

      We start from the concrete demand and specific needs of customers. Even in a production environment, every project starts from the customer-specific question. We capture that question in a digital system at the time of the quotation and then streamline the various steps leading to delivery.

      In our approach, we usually do not opt for a 'big bang'. We look for quick wins, starting with small steps, but framing them in a bigger picture: end-to-end digitisation is the final goal, but we work towards it gradually. The step-by-step plan also ensures that involved employees quickly see the results of efforts and investments. It also often solves very practical problems they faced.

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      • The human factor

    • One of the key success factors in a digital transformation is the employees involved in the project who have to work with the technology. After all, they make the difference. So those who want to digitise their processes end-to-end should always keep the perspective of the operator on the shop floor in mind. Automation may be so well thought-out and ingenious, but if no link is established between the operator and the machine or between the operator and the application he needs to use, the project will not deliver the hoped-for result.


    • Step 1: a blue paper workshop

      To work out a vision of end-to-end digitisation, we start with a so-called "blue paper workshop". We invite the client to our office to brainstorm, away from the day-to-day concerns, what a digitised process will ideally look like.

      For this, it is crucial to assemble a core team of people involved in each stage of the process so that their concrete experience can be brought in. These are some of the questions from which such an exercise starts: How do we make contact with the end customer? How is an offer made? What is the process of ordering? At what stage do engineers play a role? Where and when is the purchasing department involved? Where are the levers to achieve higher efficiency or better quality in production? What are the challenges in the process to which technology can provide an answer, ...?

      We also take into account the internal know-how that has been built up over the years, often organically. The knowledge that has not (yet) been secured, but is present in the heads of the employees: which persistent problems do we need to tackle? What solutions were already thought of in day-to-day operations? Where is the biggest leverage when digitising?

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    • In other words, before we start digitisation, we first map the entire process and try to optimise where possible. In our experience, manufacturing companies do not look at this enough at macro level, end-to-end. Then we look for the right digital solution: where can we create added value for the customer and for the employees?  The end result of the workshop:

      • The employees involved have a mutual understanding of each other's role in a process. 
      • We detect challenges together and set priorities. 
      • The group determines the next steps by mutual agreement. Each participant has voting rights. 
      • We work towards an action plan for end-to-end digitalisation that provides a pragmatic solution for the entire organisation. 
      • If required, we also offer a factory tour at STAS.
    • Step 2: making technology choices

      2.1 A Configure Price Quote system

      Implementing technology in business processes can be done at different levels. Hence, we opt for a gradual approach within a holistic view of the digitisation process. We see that customers often start from the customer perspective, i.e. from the quotation process and internal order processing. This is where a Configure Price Quote (CPQ) system offers a solution: the preparation and calculation of the quotation, linked to the internal processing and the flow that follows an order to the ERP system and the shop floor. The higher the complexity (high variety of options, small volumes), the more efficiency gains to be made.

      Squadron implements CPQ solutions such as Trimit and Hive.  

      • Trimit is a Danish solution, which has the great advantage of integrating perfectly with Microsoft Business Central. It contains a configurator for order intake or configuration of the product and the resulting logic for purchasing, production and pricing is immediately included in the various processes. It is therefore an ideal CPQ for high mix/low volume companies.  
      • Hive is a stand-alone application for product configuration, which does not integrate into the ERP environment. Only the end result is transferred into the ERP system. One of its strengths is the experience for the end customer: Hive also includes 3D visualisation.   
      • A third option is tailor-made development of a CPQ, e.g. because there are very specific needs for the configuration and pricing of a product range.
      • Meer info over CPQ in onze gratis whitepaper
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    • 2.2 ERP and applications  

      For our software solutions, we use Microsoft's ecosystem with applications such as Dynamics 365 Business Central, the Power Platform and Power Apps. Microsoft already has a strong presence in business. Their tools have a pretty good coverage of manufacturing processes, which avoids the need for too many complex integrations. Moreover, most users are familiar with their user interface. This also facilitates new implementations.

    • But we do not limit ourselves to standard solutions. If necessary, we provide custom software development and applications tailored to specific (sub-)processes. Shopfloor apps often offer quick wins, for example. They replace paper flows with a tool or dashboard app for the operator, e.g. to keep track of production numbers, do simple stock management, log quality indicators or register incidents. With an incident management app, it becomes much easier to record problems and then analyse the possible causes. Note: success hinges on simplicity and user experience.

      Moreover, don't forget that in addition to implementing a tool, a guidance and change process is needed. After all, the way work is done also needs to be changed. 

    • Step 3: standard digitisation or customisation?

    • A digital transformation is never finished. It becomes a continuous process of evaluating, adjusting, perfecting further. The more we can standardise in digital processes, the easier that becomes. Our lesson learned: keep your ERP system as standard as possible at the start to avoid experiencing problems with future upgrades. And make sure that any customisation is future-proof.  

      As a partner of Microsoft, we prefer Business Central as an ERP. It was voted best ERP for the manufacturing industry by Forbes. Business Central offers the necessary functionalities to achieve good process management and includes all basic data as standard, linked to financial reporting. This usually allows us to meet most of a customer's specific needs.

      On top of the Microsoft ecosystem, we can integrate existing applications via the Azure cloud and the Power Platform. We also develop new apps ourselves, tailored to the needs at the manufacturing company's end customers or for a specific need in production. Such integrations are tailor-made anyway. Linking different applications is also best done as automatically as possible. The more integrated it is, the less manual work remains.

      If additional programming is required, we use the Power Apps platform. Since 2019, low-code allows us to develop new applications in a fast way, with less code and therefore less chance of errors. It allows you to create, deploy and quickly adapt customised applications. It is an ideal way to digitise processes.

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    • Those who invest in end-to-end digitisation take an important step towards becoming a digital factory. By making optimal use of all available data from different applications and managing it centrally, data-driven decisions can be made. Therein lies the lever to grow further and create even more added value.

      Data capture allows a much better view of the lead time and efficiency of a production process. It will lead to further optimisations. Using algorithms, downtimes and bottlenecks can also be avoided. Preventive maintenance pays for itself in cash. With insights from PowerBI, decisions can also be substantiated: which next investment is most appropriate? How can it be rendered most quickly?

    • In this way, data constantly provides new input to further develop the digital factory. For SMEs, this means opting for a flexible platform that allows gradual implementation, and scaling up according to the speed achievable for the organisation.  


      Our experience has taught us that four factors are crucial for successful digitalisation:

      • Set aside enough time for analysis. There is a lot of truth in the way work is done today. Dissect that situation, examine the 'why' behind the current way of working. And then consider how it can be digitised to do it better. 
      • Technology can do a lot, but not everything. Digitising a bad process produces a bad digitised process. Look for the added value of software and applications. Invest in the right solution that benefits the company, employees and customers.  
      • Pay ample attention to the culture in your company. The entrepreneur's vision plays an important role in this, as does the freedom he gives to his teams. Collaboration across departments will be a necessity. Engagement and change management equally so. 
      • Develop tools and applications that are inclusive and encourage their use. Let the app follow the logic of the employee, rather than vice versa. The easier it is to use, the smoother employees will start using it. Simpler applications usually also mean that you can control the budget better.

      Excited to get started with end-to-end digitisation?

      • Get in touch for more info!