By Peter Osborne
DuPont is quietly building a group tasked with driving higher revenues, cutting expenses, and streamlining manufacturing processes across the company by using emerging technologies.
The DuPont Digital Center employs 25 people at The Mill in downtown Wilmington, with the team working
on as many as 40 transformation projects at any given time.
“We are taking digital transformation very seriously at DuPont, said Global Digital Innovation Leader Bernardo Tiburcio, formerly chief information officer for DuPont’s Sustainable Solutions area. “We’re defining digital as using any kind of electronic technology to complete a task or a process or a project or any process in the corporation. The way we’re defining digital right now is more anchored to emerging technologies” such as machine learning, artificial intelligence, augmented reality, predictive analytics, connected devices, and the internet of things.
DuPont spent about $900 million on research and development efforts in 2018. It says it saw more than a 5% boost in new sales growth in 2018 from products introduced in the last five years.
The company is not publicly discussing specific numbers around new revenues or savings, or long-term staffing because we’re “building and modeling as we go along,” said Andi Le, digital innovation director for DuPont’s Information Technology area. “It’s all about driving the business value first. We’re not doing the technology for technology’s sake; we’re doing it to drive business benefit.”
DuPont launched what it called a Digital Acceleration Program in January 2018 and focused on quickly executing projects, learning a lot, but without a lot of structure.
“We identified so many opportunities, so much potential value that we can deliver to the organization, that we started taking input in August from the leaderships of all our different businesses and subject-matter experts and completed our digital strategy in December,” Tiburcio said. “Part of that digital strategy included the creation of a digital center. That’s where we are right now.”
The team is following a three-part process that includes identifying opportunities and partnering with the businesses to create business cases and prioritize the projects; delivering on those projects; and raising the digital competency of the entire organization through a “learning and development program designed to educate people across DuPont on the available technology and the processes that you follow,” Tiburcio said.
The group completed a pilot project in late March that it calls the “Connected Industrial Worker.” Mechanics in some of DuPont’s manufacturing plants needed to go to their workstations to retrieve their work orders and figure out the tools they’d need; print out those work orders and go to the piece of equipment, which may be on the other side of the facility; and then find they needed a manual from their offices. The team decided to give the mechanics some tablets and built-in applications that give them everything they need. They can scan a barcode in the equipment, and it pulls the documentation for that equipment.
“We hope to see a 30-percent increase in productivity as a result,” Tiburcio said with a broad smile.
The early stages of the initiative started at DuPont’s Chestnut Run facility. So why locate the digital center at The Mill?
“We are competing with the Googles, with the Facebooks, because we need to bring roles like data scientists, and advanced data analytics, and robotic process automation developers, and UI UX designers,” Tiburcio said. “In our office space in Chestnut Run, we have some buildings that would have been good for this kind of environment, but they are full.”
“It’s been challenging to fill some of the positions, but at this point I cannot tell you if it is just because we are in Wilmington versus any other location, or if it’s just a very tough market,” he added. “We’ve been asking our recruiters, ‘Is the fact that we are in Wilmington impacting our ability to recruit the talent that we need or not?’ I cannot answer that question; I don’t have enough data to tell you that’s an issue or not.”
OK, then why locate in Wilmington as opposed to one of the centers of where those Google and Facebook people are?
“Proximity to our businesses was very important,” Tiburcio said. “Everything needs to be anchored to an outcome that delivers value to the businesses. We need to be close to the business and the people that work over there. The cost to live and work in this market compared to Silicon Valley or other places was also a factor.”
Digital IT Scrum Master Ruby Kapoor is working on projects that use machine learning, which can train a computer to make predictions of what’s going to happen in the future, to address quality issues in complex manufacturing.
“We want to read data from the sensors in the manufacturing process — measuring temperature or pressure here or speed of something there — so that the computer can correlate all of that data from the sensors with a quality outcome, and predicts if and where you’re going to have a quality issue,” Kapoor said. “If you make the adjustments earlier, you improve quality and then you improve the yield.”