Digital transformation of the manufacturing sector is proceeding rapidly and means a drastic change especially to large companies that drive the development. Manufacturing SMEs (Small and Medium sized Enterprise) are also required to invest in modern technologies to keep up with the competition, as they are often members of supply chains led by large companies. To get an overview of the current SME digital investments in Europe we carried out structured interviews covering 50 respondents in Bulgaria, Finland, Italy, Germany, Romania, Spain, and Turkey in the autumn 2021. We were interested in the following information:
- What are the areas of operation where digital solutions have been implemented in?
- What digital applications have been implemented?
- What have been the initial barriers faced in the adoption of digital solutions?
- What kind of risks SMEs have considered regarding their digital investments.
Based on the responses, we made the following conclusions:
Manufacturing SMEs are implementing ICT (Information and Communications Technology) actively but cautiously. In other words, they are moving from core functions supporting systems such as ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning) and MES (Manufacturing Execution System) to more advanced Industry 4.0 solutions.
Manufacturing SMEs are concerned about specific topics regarding innovative technology investments. Their main concerns are:
- Integration of systems
- Lack of qualified personnel
- Timing the investment decision under uncertainty of innovative technologies
Manufacturing SMEs are more concerned about integration than specific technological challenges. These are for example the following:
- Competence exists on core manufacturing technologies but lacks on system integration
- The risk is not integration technologies, but instead managing the interconnected operations
- Lack of resources and competence to understand the broader systemic change and its threats and opportunities. This makes it challenging to make smart investment decisions
To conclude our study in one key sentence, manufacturing SMEs are not worried about novel technology, but instead having competent people to understand and manage it.
The article has been presented at ISPIM Connects Athens conference on 28-30 November 2022. You can find the conference article here