Taking Smart Steps Toward Your Factory of The Future

The next several years of manufacturing are for industrial revolution as digitalization is upgrading manufacturing industry rapidly. Advanced technologies are evolving continuously in the manufacturing industry not only on the factory floors and back offices but throughout the entire value chain. From manufacturing units to warehouses and distribution centers, industries are always striving to do more with fewer efforts, and that means working smarter, not harder. Latest approaches to business continuity and energy are helping industrial facilities to rethink operations processes at every stage. Now, that calls for an industrial revolution building smart factories.

Manufacturing is getting smarter by unleashing the key technologies like automation, artificial intelligence, robotics, human-machine interaction, and additive technology. Further advanced technologies like predictive analytics, virtual and augmented reality, next-level interfaces, advanced robotics are giving further scope for smart manufacturing. Digital transformation redefines and optimizes nearly every aspect of the business by upgrading existing legacy systems and instrumenting business processes, calling the need for upgrading the jobs skill set as well. With these technologies, digitalization is widespread and far-reaching impacting all functions of manufacturing like Operational Technology (OT), Information Technology (IT), Engineering Technology (ET), Asset Management, Supply Chain and Customer Facing Systems and so on.  Smart factories are representing a leap forward from traditional automation to a fully connected and flexible system. Yes, it is real, but it’s tricky to predict how long it will take to digitalize as digitalization is happening much faster than expected.

Production planning is becoming more challenging with the growing demand and the increasing complexity of products. Hence, process development needs to formulate new methodologies and innovative approaches for process excellence. Process frameworks which allow the integration of dedicated applications into an integrative data model, to gaining a holistic mapping of the production must be developed. Data can be analyzed, and the optimization of decision making can happen using Intelligence approaches. The advantages incurred are demonstrated by a production structure planning approach in correlation with a process chain optimization.

Digitalization enables the world’s most advanced manufacturing facilities, so it’s no surprise the forward-thinking manufacturers have outpaced the competition and control adoption. Manufacturers with a wide range of industries are earning profits by deploying the latest digital technologies. Smart and digitally connected products instantly send customer experience data to product managers, and it is helping them to anticipate the demand and plan the manufacturing accordingly. Digital manufacturing enables on-time decision making through close monitoring of machines, people, materials, ongoing communications, and upgrading processes.

Smart manufacturing is also speeding the pace of innovation as digitalization lowers the costs of production and maintenance, improves operational efficiency, augments on-time delivery rates, guarantees product quality, enables manufacturing flexibility and increases the impact of marketing. The Digital thread is enabling the companies to connect all the physical assets across the manufacturing network, uniting the value chain data flow of every phase of the product life cycle – starting from designing phase to sales including design > sourcing > testing > production > distribution > sales and usage. Smart manufacturers are positioning their plants and processes as best-in-class and are supporting some of the biggest brands to drive their ambitions forward.

6 Factors Driving Digital Manufacturing Transformation

Digitizing the production value chain is one of the highest priorities for industrial companies. To win the global race for innovation leadership in digital manufacturing, successful companies are following three major trends that are reshaping the manufacturing landscape worldwide.

  1. The trend of introducing new tools and agile ways of working: Digital Leaders are using advanced tools like IoT, Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality. As the new way of working, leaders are putting digital transformation strategy in place to embrace agile across various functions and multidisciplinary teams.
  2. The trend of building and leveraging the power of partnerships, new players, and ecosystems: Most of the industries are choosing technologies allowing for third-party developer ecosystems and are using application development and external software instead of in-house maintenance.
  3. The trend of creating new revenue-generating opportunities through new business models and innovative value-added services. These include pay-by-usage and subscription-based models for equipment and machinery, providing technology platforms connecting data and players, and new business models that translate data, insights and intellectual property into revenues and earn profits.

One of the biggest challenges is, most of the global manufacturing industries are trapped in “pilot purgatory” and they are unable to advance beyond the pilot phase. The time between piloting and rollout is significantly longer than the gap between perceived relevance and piloting, indicating that scaling is a bigger challenge to overcome.

There are six success factors across three categories which organizations need to focus on to escape from pilot purgatory and to gain sustainability from digital technologies.

  1. Strategize the process
  2. 1st Success factor is approaching the opportunity with bottom-line value backward approach.
  3. 2nd Success factor is defining a clear digital manufacturing vision and develop a phased road map to achieve the vision.
  4. Innovate the infrastructure
  5. 3rd success factor is forming the wide-range of the target-state technology stack.
  6. 4th success factor is building and leading a fully focused ecosystem of technology partners.
  7. Mobilize the organization
  8. 5th success factor is leaders to stand first and drive the transformation from the top.
  9. 6th success factor is getting ahead of the capability gap.

How to Redefine Manufacturing

The national economy is getting far-reaching and broad contributions from manufacturing including Gross Domestic Product (GDP), a good return on investments, high-paying jobs, exports, innovations in manufacturing, science and technology, national security, mathematics (STEM) education and next-gen engineering. So, it is highly needed for policymakers and the general public to understand the impacts of advanced smart manufacturing on nation’s economic portfolio and society. However, it is not at all an easy task to gain the support of policymakers and to get the buy-in from the general public, because it is strong in the people’s mind that manufacturing cannot be smart and most of them are still envisioning manufacturing as mills and factories in the past. The first accomplishment would be to change the outdated thinking of the general public and redefine how the manufacturing of the future would be in their minds. It is important to explain how smart manufacturing enhances the economy and society. With this, it would be easy to gain the support of policy-makers explicitly.

Innovative technologies and materials, emerging manufacturing processes, and disruptive business models will help to overcome the challenge of building awareness in general public and gain policymakers support as the knowledge base would be improved with them.

Coming to processing techniques, additive manufacturing is gaining more visibility and broader acceptance as a process for direct production as it enables enhanced material selection, material property with more efficiency and quality. However, additive manufacturing is not entirely a simple manufacturing process. Besides improving the manufacturing of products, additive manufacturing also helps in changing the distribution of products like supply chain and logistics implications. It helps in making the unit cost less sensitive to production lot sizes. Unit cost will be isolated from lot size considerations. Because of this, parts could be manufactured in a lot many sizes at a very reasonable cost. This idea of manufacturing a single product in a lot many sizes anytime and anywhere creates newer and evolved business models, disrupting the existing business models.

Hybrid Manufacturing

Almost three decades back, when robotics started leading the innovations, it was assumed that within 10 years all factories would be people-less factories and would be filled only by the robots. However, even today people are seen in the factories and are expected to be seen even in the foreseeable future. In the same way, it is being predicted that additive manufacturing will soon replace all machining processes, but it will not happen. The future factories will be collaborative hybrid systems with both robots and humans, composites and metals, additive and subtractive manufacturing, cyber and physical systems, digital and analog processes, nano and macro scales, and many more of such. Humans will not be completely replaced by robots just as subtractive manufacturing will not be completely replaced by additive manufacturing. Rather, they all work in collaboration balancing the distributed responsibilities.

Building Blocks of the Future Manufacturing

It is still very early and tricky to define the building blocks of Industry 4.0. However, based on what has been experienced so far, the future of manufacturing enterprises is most probably based on the mentioned building blocks:

Physical assets represented digitally are considered as digital twins. They usually provide information on the assets working, such as engineering models, design specifications, and operational data specific to the assets.

The digital thread is the communication framework, which connects asset data from all the areas and provides a combined asset data view for the entire asset life cycle. Digital thread aims at delivering the right information to the right place at the right time.

System engineering is gaining more acceptance. IoT and digital threads are empowering supply chain to be more transparent and highly visible. Production location and distribution centers are going beyond and being optimized to advocate the optimization of the entire supply chain and the entire supplier base.

The future of manufacturing is highly depended on embedded systems of hybrid systems.

Material innovation is picking up the steam and has become a key element for science, technology, and economic policies. Manufacturing and materials need to be together and they are inseparable. Materials make manufacturing to work and manufacturing adds value to the raw materials. Advanced manufacturing and integrated computational materials engineering need to accelerate for modernizing more innovative materials.

As it is well known that What cannot be measured cannot be managed, the accuracy of measuring must be given equal importance to what must be measured. As nano-processing is becoming a well-adopted technique in specific sectors, the demand for advanced methodology is also improving accordingly.

Lack of skill set upgraded, and smart workforce could be a threat to smart manufacturing. Many people are not upgrading their skillset with the required skills to fill the smart manufacturing positions. Hence, the quality and quantity of the workforce to carry smart manufacturing activities of the future are insufficient. Though there are any training programs being developed to train a skilled workforce, most of the training programs are simply not scalable.

Finally, considering the emergence of more complex ecosystems and concentrated players across a growing range of manufacturing value chains, businesses that understand and focus on the emerging “influence points” will gain strategic advantage significantly. As the manufacturing landscape is evolving rapidly and competition is increasing drastically, meeting the expectations of dynamic customers, matters more than ever.

In all the critical decisions about how to play in this new environment, there is no master playbook defined so far and no single path to success. Both incumbents and new entrants would be successful if they clearly understand the shifts, trends, roles and influence points in the landscape of smart manufacturing.

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