Manufacturing the digital way: A commentary on key technologies shaping the industry
47% of manufacturing organizations are already embracing digital transformations, as per a recent survey by Fujitsu. This transformation is changing the way modern factories look and operate. By embracing this transformation, manufacturers are able to improve productivity in their own plants, stack up against their rivals, and create value for their customers. With that in mind, here is an overview of the five key technologies that are driving the digital manufacturing revolution
Additive Manufacturing/ 3D printing
3D printing is now a well appreciated term in the world of manufacturing. It uses a 3D model or data from an electronic source to craft a 3-dimensional object with given raw material. The end result is a high precision replica of the original design, there is less waste during the production process, hence it’s very cost effective.
A number of industrial manufacturers are using 3D printers to create products or parts in small lots for product prototypes. It helps to reduce design-to-manufacturing cycle times, and dramatically improves the economics of production. It gives the manufacturers the flexibility to create customised products and allows them to perform customer driven manufacturing on a large scale.
Historically, additive manufacturing technology has been expensive but recent advancements have enabled it to become more affordable, and it is anticipated to become a common option for smaller manufacturers.
The concept of employing robots in the manufacturing process is not new; however the technology is evolving in ways that are having a big impact on manufacturing. ‘Cobotics’ is the new concept wherein, rather than replacing human from the manufacturing process, robots are used to complement the work of employees. In such a factory, the tasks that are burdensome and require precision are assigned to robots, while human involvement brings adaptability and complex decision making. Successful implementations of cobotics so far have mainly been in the area of specific ergonomically challenging tasks within the aerospace and automotive industries. But these applications are expected to rise as more sophisticated sensors and more adaptable, highly functional robotic equipment are introduced on the factory floor.
Predictive analytics uses real time data from sensors and historical data to predict likely behaviour of an entity. A significant growth in computing technology and data storage has allowed predictive analytics to rapidly make its way in the manufacturing process.
Utilizing big data and predictive analytics, manufactures can know when to produce products to maximize profits and predict when parts in factory machinery should be replaced. Manufacturers can provide predictive maintenance services to their customers over and above the product itself. This helps in creating value throughout the product’s life cycle as wastage is minimised and processes are optimised.
Augmented Reality turns our surrounding environment to a digital world by strategically placing virtual objects in the real world. Recent advances in this field have enabled manufacturers to deliver real-time information and guidance to operators at the point of use. Operators simply follow virtual cues superimposed onto goggles or real assemblies as they perform complex tasks on the factory floor. AR tools can also assess the accuracy and timing of these tasks, and notify the operator of quality risks.
Augmented reality is being used by manufacturers for hands-free training, enable faster responses to maintenance requests, track inventory, increase safety, and provide a real-time view of manufacturing operations. These services could be sold as add-ons to the equipment itself, creating new revenue streams for industrial manufacturing firms.
Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT)
IIoT has been instrumental in digital transformation of manufacturing as it has streamlined and simplified various manufacturing processes. It allows for real-time feedback and alerts companies of defects or damaged goods much in advance thereby reducing cost and wastage. The term Industry 4.0 “represents the vision of an interconnected factory where equipment is intelligent and capable of making its own decisions and communicating it to other equipment.”
Modern customers expect their products to be intuitive and easy to interact with, hence manufacturers are driven to innovate and create smarter products. Post-sale experience for customers can also be optimised by utilising IIoT based value added services.
Digital manufacturing is a rapidly evolving field with technology advancements happening at a breakneck pace. Let us know your views about the technologies impacting digital manufacturing on our social network.