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Component giant KEMET Electronics shows the world how digital transformations are done.
For more than a century, KEMET Electronics Corporation has designed and manufactured electronic components, riding every design and innovation wave to become one of the industry's most respected global suppliers. There is a good chance you have benefited from the flawless operation of a KEMET capacitor, actuator, or sensor nestled in your mobile phone, vehicle, or in any number of devices you rely on, as they hold over 1,600 international patents and trademarks. KEMET is not a household name but is in every household.
To propel its mission to “make the world a better, safer, more connected place to live” into the future, the company launched a sweeping digitization effort in 2018. Leading the initiative is Chris Hall, KEMET’s VP of Global Information Technology. Hall’s insights are valuable for any organization considering digital future-proofing. Before we get to those, a quick look at the company’s role in society demonstrates just how complex and sophisticated an undertaking this is.
In 2019, KEMET shipped roughly 54 billion components from over 23 global manufacturing facilities to nearly 200,000 customers in 188 companies. When you consider that they promise 100% on-time delivery, that statistical salad becomes even more impressive. It’s a necessary promise, given that so many critical applications rely on their components: advanced automotive electronics, industrial applications, aerospace, medical, smartphones, cloud/networking equipment, wireless communications, alternative energy, and 5G technology. As you’d expect, KEMET’s technical, materials science, design, and R&D capabilities are second to none.
The need to upgrade their digital infrastructure emerged from a pair of primary concerns: Prior investments in IT had been slim enough to increase their risk profile, and future growth through M&A activity would require a robust technology infrastructure. “The company really wanted to make information technology a partner of the business and make digitalization a cornerstone of KEMET’s future success,” Hall confirmed.
While we can’t reveal exactly how they are achieving that goal, we can present you with IT and business considerations that must be made by every company regardless of size and scope.
Five Pillars of Digital Transformation
In a multi-billion-dollar ultra-deadline-driven manufacturing enterprise, death comes in the form of downtime. Production issues and production support must be first and foremost. The KEMET IT group balanced a blend of insourcing and outsourcing and had a dedicated team handling day-to-day matters in addition to several other teams focused on new projects.
“There were many organizational changes as well as communication required to create the cadence and ensure that all of those groups talked to one another. We wanted to make sure that the support teams talked to the development teams and vice versa because there are things to be learned from each other. We also wanted to make sure that as we were undertaking new projects, we weren't getting too far ahead in one area and leaving another behind,” Hall noted.
Before starting their journey, KEMET leadership examined the business's basic demands, particularly close attention to what Hall calls the “gray areas” within it. When presented with what the business needed, the next step was to understand precisely why. It wasn’t enough to accept the need for wireless technology across the company’s factory network; grasping the intended results of that implementation would meet this expectation.
Hall developed a holistic strategy for the journey, using his “five pillars” to organize the road-mapping for their strategic IT objectives. The approach “makes it much easier to define the teams that will work in those different channels and prioritizing their work, so everybody stays in sync,” he said.
DevOps, which includes production applications and infrastructure, is the first pillar that makes the business run. “You must think about production, application support and development, and infrastructure stability.”
“On either side of that, you have data management and governance, as well as security. These pillars need to be secure, especially in today’s cyber world. You must able to get to the data that supports your business to make decisions on near real-time data readily,” Hall explained. The organization and collaboration pillars complete the five. “Organization is more internally facing; that's making sure we have the right cadence with the business: those daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly meetings that keep everybody in the organization up to date on what we're doing and why we're doing it. We may increase that alignment to ensure that we’re always going in the right direction and delivering on our dates.
“The pillar of collaboration is how we interact between those organized cadences and the rigidity of the organization. If you need a question answered, how are you going to do that? You can't do what we've been doing for the last three years if you're relying on email. You need tools like Microsoft Teams. You need to be able to have a presence on enterprise comms platforms like Yammer. There are many other ways to collaborate in today's digital world, and teaching the business how to use those tools is very important.
“To that end, we spent considerable time teaching new skills within the business and organizing with its many partners to align expectations and bring them up to speed on the latest tools implemented across the organization. These five pillars work with each other. If you focus on one and not the others, eventually, you'll fall. These pillars are critical to delivering a holistic strategy.”
Reimagining Infrastructure for Tomorrow & Beyond
As KEMET was upgrading its IT infrastructure, Wi-Fi 6 was born, and 5G technology increased in adoption. “We had to change a little bit in our approach because the whole point of much of our journey is future-proofing,” Hall explained. Technology superstars Open Systems and Aruba Networks were key partners in KEMET’s IT infrastructure rebuild.
“Both Open Systems and Aruba worked with us to make sure that we could utilize 5G as it became a reality and that we have wireless access points to support Wi-Fi 6, which will be important for IoT. These partners are integral in the success of our infrastructure program,” he stressed. Open Systems provided SDWAN technology for their wide-area networks, and Aruba technology supports the equation's LAN side. “We worked very closely with both of those teams to ensure we were architecting our systems the way we thought we were. They provided a lot of engineering support around sanity checking—what we were doing and why.”
While the emphasis for most of the journey has been building a resilient foundation for whatever dreams KEMET will bring to fruition, positive business impacts have begun to emerge from those efforts.
“Good things happen when you have good plans,” Hall emphasized. “The last three years have been more focused on risk avoidance and eliminating downtime. In a manufacturing operation, this is exceptionally costly. We’ve 100% done that. Three years ago, our network uptime was in the low 90% range, which is bad. Now our network uptime is nearly 100%. On occasion, we’ll have a few minutes of downtime in one area or another, but an external source is typically causing the problem. That nearly 10% shift in network uptime drastically improved our ability to produce improved solutions in other organization areas. We eliminated a huge risk factor for the business.”
If today’s world seems different, tomorrow may be beyond our imagination. Rethinking how workers and customers communicate and that IT touches every corner of the enterprise, we must understand before plotting a transformation designed to reap the promises of Industry 4.0. Keep an eye on KEMET as they lead the way.
KEMET, a subsidiary of Yageo Corporation (TAIEX: 2327) and part of the Yageo Group, helps our customers build tomorrow with the broadest selection of capacitor technologies in the industry, along with an expanding range of electromechanical devices, electromagnetic compatibility solutions and supercapacitors. With over 100 years of making the world a better, safer, and more connected place to live, our vision is to be the preferred supplier of electronic component solutions demanding the highest standards of quality, delivery and service. Additional information about KEMET can be found at www.kemet.com.
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