How Manufacturers Can Lead the Digital Revolution

As companies in every sector strive to digitize their operations, manufacturers have the most to gain. Yet while manufacturing lends itself to digitization through automation, sensors and data, the industry as a whole has been slow to move into the digital world.

digital manufacturingThe future of manufacturing will lie in combining “the best of old and new processes,” according to Information Age. One of those new technologies includes generative design, where manufacturers can use software to automatically design parts without human inputs. Many organizations are also starting to use a hybrid approach that combines traditional manufacturing with additive manufacturing. “By combining the processes in a hybrid approach, the manufacturing industry can take advantages of the best of both techniques; 2016 will see this combination of processes grow in use,” IA said.

Robotic technologies also can be big enablers of digitization. While robots have been used to do a limited range of repetitive tasks such as handling materials and components, they are now capable of more advanced processes. Robots in a manufacturing environment now can be connected to a range of sensors to capture information about the parts they’re working on. The article in Information Age said data can be fed back to the control system to make adjustments for greater efficiency and accuracy.

Tools for getting started
Manufacturing leaders can use a number of tools and strategies to simplify a complex issue and take big steps toward joining the digital revolution. Leaders can start by picking a couple of their most costly issues or difficult problems and find where the most opportunities are, Brench Boden, CTO of the Digital Manufacturing and Design Innovation Institute, told “No business has ever been successful transforming something like this overnight. The implementations of big, huge software programs end up costing a lot more than anybody ever thought,” he said.

“Companies that can close the gap by tapping the data they generate—and what’s publicly available—will uncover valuable insights to drive profits and growth.”

Boden elaborated that companies need to try to think about a problem and use digitization to solve it. They should consider whether data would make the decision more effective, what insights they need, and once a decision has been made, if tracking the result of the decision is important for something later in the process. Boden said companies can make incremental progress by creating small, temporary ecosystems to work on digital manufacturing challenges like attaining better visibility into supply chains or using augmented reality.

Digital manufacturing technologies will ultimately transform every link in the manufacturing value chain from R&D to marketing, sales and service, according to McKinsey. The consulting firm said that many large manufactures are starting to use data analytics to optimize factory operations, boost equipment utilization, and enhance product quality, all while reducing energy consumption. They’re also using new supply management tools to help schedule factor operations and product deliveries.

In the next decade, digital manufacturing technologies will allow companies to connect physical assets with a “digital thread.” This thread will release a seamless flow of data across the value chain that will touch every aspect of the product lifecycle. While the digital revolution is only starting to take shape, McKinsey says that leaders in manufacturing are already gaining competitive advantages by harnessing the capabilities of such information. “We believe that companies that can close this gap by tapping the data they generate (and what’s publicly available) will uncover valuable insights to drive profits and growth,” McKinsey said.


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