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How & When to Update a Legacy System in Manufacturing


If you find yourself attached to your legacy software and hardware in your manufacturing operation, you’re not alone. Old habits die hard, as they say, but the technological revolution sweeping industries right now necessitates changes and updates. It might be time to update your legacy systems; but how do you know if it’s really the right time to invest?

Digital systems and advancements in tech from artificial intelligence to the Internet of Things (IoT) are powering new possibilities in business. In manufacturing, IoT alone offers powerful solutions through data gathering, supply chain innovation, product and performance assessments, and much more. These connected devices drive insights that would be impossible otherwise, making their integration a valuable investment for most manufacturers.

With benefits like this stemming from new tech, it’s likely time to leave your legacy system behind and adopt new tools. Recognize the value of an update, then explore these tips for updating your legacy system.

Recognizing when it’s time to update

Facing economic problems in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic, technology has come to play a more vital role in all our lives than ever before. From supply chains to individual office workers, the need for adaptive, connected systems is pressing to meet the needs of our global economy and correct problems where they occur. If your tech isn’t serving you at any point in your process, it’s time to update.

Begin with a process map. This is an illustration of your systems that highlights objectives, histories, successes, and failings. With a map laid out of your tech and tools, you can assess a visual model of your process to more easily explore how to make beneficial improvements.

From there, you can ask a series of questions regarding your legacy systems:

  • Does our process generate useful data?
  • What process information are we failing to gather?
  • Is there still sufficient support for our legacy system?
  • Where are we experiencing stalled growth or spending money to maintain our system?
  • What are our options in the world of digital advancements?

By answering these questions, you’ll map out the flaws of your legacy system and begin to understand how modern tech can improve your productivity and workflows. From supply chain and production transparency to factory floor safety, tools like IoT and AI can revolutionize your process. Once you understand the need for an update, then it’s time to take the necessary steps to implement one.

How to update a legacy system

How you go about updating your legacy system depends on the nature and goals of your particular business model. In manufacturing, this often means ramping up production while eliminating downtime and inventory management issues.

Fortunately, modernizing your system doesn’t have to be difficult. You can achieve a clear plan for advancement in three simple steps. These are: assessing your current system, considering digital solutions, and creating a strategy.

Developing and integrating this plan, however, is typically more challenging. After all, you’ll face the issues of adapting your legacy system to new tools while training your team to make full use of a data-powered, streamlined process. These tips can help you take your plan to update your legacy system from a recognized need to a streamlined, revenue-boosting process.

1.    Define the data you need to gather.

When it comes to data, the more the better. That said, there are some vital metrics you’ll want to track to understand how you can improve your process. Look for software and tools that can help you monitor metrics like job cost, labor hours, materials costs, machine downtime and efficiency, and rate of error.

2.    Explore scalable, secure solutions.

With an understanding of the data you need to track, explore tools that can help you get there. Machine tools, connected systems, and sensors can all offer invaluable insights into the performance and function of your process. The world of industrial IoT gets better all the time, with 5G wireless connectivity allowing for more and better communication of data in real-time. Scalable data collection is one element of your digital transformation journey you should not neglect, so find tools that allow for growth.

3.    Keep it simple.

Updating your legacy system can lead to problems if it mires your workflow in too much complexity. Fortunately, modern software solutions allow manufacturers to streamline their insights into a single, comprehensive dashboard. With the ability to track all your key metrics in one place, you can more easily gain insights and generate ideas for flexibly adopting new solutions.

4.    Focus on communication.

When it comes to manufacturing performance, communication is key. Systems must be able to interact and communicate from various sites and among suppliers and departments. Without a comprehensive communication network for real-time data transfer, your updates won’t be as effective as they could be.

5.    Don’t neglect employee feedback and training.

Any new system can be difficult to manage. Prioritize employee success to ensure the effectiveness of your new tech, and don’t neglect to gather employee feedback from the very beginning stages of your legacy updating process. Learn where workers encounter challenges, features they’d like to see implemented, and problems they face in adapting to new systems.

By following these strategies when it comes time to update your legacy system, you can take your modernization efforts through the assessment to the implementation stages successfully. As a result, you can power a more transparent, productive manufacturing business with the tools in place to support your workers. Such an approach will lead to the agility your business needs to adapt to the rapid changes of a constantly developing world.

Building an agile business

When it comes to adapting legacy systems, maintaining agile methodology can best serve manufacturers. This framework focuses on collaboration, individual solutions, and ongoing improvement. As such, you’ll be able to work with stakeholders, suppliers, workers, and colleagues to produce high-quality products while retaining flexibility.

The COVID-19 pandemic proved the need for such an adaptive approach to manufacturing. By recognizing the importance of updates and following these strategies for implementing a better system, you can resolve the issues of your legacy platforms that are holding you back in the data-driven world.

Don’t let your legacy system drag you down with cost and implementation barriers. The right tools and strategies are available to enhance your manufacturing processes, if only you apply the proper planning, tools, and collaborative efforts.

If you need help analyzing and updating your legacy system, turn to the subject matter experts at USC Consulting Group.

This article is written by guest author Ainsley Lawrence. View more of Ainsley’s articles here.

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