In order to overcome communication difficulties with foreign branches and associates because of the location of the parent company (Campello sul Clitunno), we developed a Data Centre that enabled us to offer them know-how and support very quickly. To avoid a huge expenditure of energy and human resources, but above all to achieve an immediate response in terms of efficiency, we developed a Private Cloud, a proprietary international network that guarantees a secure connection, allowing companies that collaborate with us to use all the applications made available to them. This is where the need to develop virtualisation technology came from, an innovative step that also proved to be very useful during the difficult years of the pandemic: we set up virtual stations that can connect to our Cloud via a terminal that can be used both on-site and remotely, giving foreign customers, branches and associates a way to connect and use our services.
This clearly necessitated the digitalisation of processes in the office in order to move beyond the usual use of management software, applications and administrative materials, to allow all areas of the company to move organically at the same speed.
The long-term goal is the creation of a true IT asset that allows operators to work independently by having industrial software that is usable over time. In detail, we acquired the management of Information Technology, Operation Technology. Therefore we chose partners who were able to guarantee future partnership such as Microsoft, Siemens, IBM Maximo, Engineering computer engineering, INFOR, IUNGO, SOLIDWORKS, TIM, etc. Process Owners have been instrumental in supporting this both in introducing a new PLM (Product Lifecycle Management), which manages the design and product lifecycle phases, and in introducing a new QMS (Quality Management System), which manages quality processes, as well as the process part that manages automatic machine innovation. We positioned ourselves as an advanced support to all departments.
This process is still ongoing, and will accompany business development in the future as well. It started around the middle of 2017. Although not fully operational, we could say that we have reached about 80% and there is a good chance that the it will be completed within a short time.
What we have tried to do so far is to adapt a durable industrial system prepared for innovation through the creation of a network of applications and networks. It is a transformation that affects not only the production but also human resources.
The leaders, who actively and enthusiastically cooperated from the beginning, were instrumental in initiating and carrying out the project. The practitioners, those who have undergone these changes themselves, have also shown an excellent readiness for change; they stepped out of their comfort zone and found themselves having to use new tools, entering a new perspective that made them active participants in the digitalisation process through machine guidance and data acquisition. Obviously, all of this involved a lot of effort, but the production process now, thanks to the technical and management offices, allows reviews and quality control to be done directly within this application.
The goal is to capture information directly from the machines and applications, and this has been made possible by the creation of our own Big Data that provides the many informational needs that are then extracted, processed, and redistributed through a Business Intelligence tool. A single interface was also created to have all useful tools available, thus achieving centralised management that provides everyone with the same applications, methods and processes. Centralization that allows real decentralization of processes.
These include, for example, a focus on environmental protection. Our Data Centre is focussed on decreasing consumption and carbon dioxide production, a respect for the environment that actually also saves money in terms of maintenance and consumption. Our machines today consume 20% less than a few years ago.
Another need is the new work attitude of operators. In fact, with the transition to 4.0, human work has been moved to the beginning and the end stages, with actions during the creation phase of the computer algorithmic process and then in the reading phase.
The fear that 4.0 will eliminate jobs is not entirely well-founded; rather, digitalisation leads to a relocation of certain people and, therefore, an optimization of skills.
Having a state-of-the-art digital IT asset involves some large scale transversal changes. From a production point of view, we have achieved decreased production times, a shorter time in detecting anomalies, and greater elasticity that allows us to make changes, even sudden changes, in production and business strategies that adapt to the moment.
We must be ready for any kind of change. Situations evolve quickly, and there is a need to readjust production immediately according to the specific requirements of our clients who often need designs tailored to them.
The IT asset, designed this way, acts as a support for all areas of production, and this means having our own operating system that not only covers all the needs of the various departments, but also grows over time without having to start from scratch each time.
Automation growth at Meccanotecnica Umbra, especially in recent times, has been exponential. To talk about the industrial process is to talk about an entity that actually started the digitalisation process a long time ago. In contrast to the rather recent development of Information Technology processes, machine digitalisation came about much earlier than Industry 4.0. precisely because automation in manufacturing companies was essential to ensure competitiveness. As an example, in the automotive market, by switching from manual to automatic production, we were able to reduce cycle times to 2.5 seconds, thereby increasing the company's productivity. There has been a change in the philosophy of and approach to making machines that have definitely made gains in terms of efficiency and maintainability. The transition from analog to digital in particular has allowed for growth in people, business, productivity and, as a result, investment.
Another change from the past is that we use local suppliers. Historically, Meccanotecnica Umbra's suppliers were mainly located in the northern regions of Italy, and relying on them resulted in an expenditure of energy as well as high costs. For the past five years, however, we have been able to turn to local companies, and this has led not only to a decrease in costs, but also to a direct and active collaboration with the local area that has allowed us to transfer our know-how to the surrounding areas in a different way - an important aspect that allows us to have an up-to-date global company.
Turning to new companies necessarily implies new design that starts from scratch - and thus a considerable initial effort - but all of this has actually also entailed practical growth in which the innovation and process are both consciously carried out. Meccanotecnica Umbra does not innovate simply because it is possible, but because it is useful; because it allows not only the company to maintain its workforce, growing company expertise, optimizing processes, consumption and increasing market response, but it also allows our surrounding area to grow.
Automation did not imply a loss of human resources because they were immediately reallocated, and this contributed to a large amount of growth at the company.
What starts as a market need then becomes an evolution in terms of greater capabilities and adaptation to a context in which digitalisation, in this case, plays an important role.
The need to initiate a digitalisation process arose simultaneously in all business sectors; a need that developed quite naturally. The need to manage Data Bases more efficiently emerged in parallel with the development of specific technologies that have led to more comprehensive optimization. Particularly, the digitalisation process has involved the procedures for transferring and sharing information, thanks to which it has become possible to carry out analyses much more quickly and to achieve other benefits: drastic reduction of formalization time, greater accuracy during transcription steps, and fewer errors.
At Meccanotecnica Umbra, we have a common predisposition in creating a flow in which it becomes practically mandatory to anticipate innovation, or at least to always be ready. It is no coincidence that we always take Big Data into account, precisely to hypothesise future scenarios.
It is imperative for us to be prepared for a future that is not unambiguous, not as we imagine it to be, but that potentially offers several unknowns that can then, in turn, be linked to potential scenarios. Prior to the structuring of the readability of business data we used to try to guess what the future would look like, whereas today the data allows us to analyse different scenarios in a practical way.
Increasing data complexity on the one hand makes it possible to streamline, develop, speed up time, and increase accuracy, and on the other hand it implies a greater ability to read this data, which is bound to increase more and more.
And this is precisely the new challenge: once the structure is fully adapted to digital, it will need to be directed differently from the old tradition in which the relationship with the market was based on security in the future; today what we need to look for is the alternative.