A past report from McKinsey & Company captured the conundrum of digitalisation well. The manufacturing industry has been a gradual adopter of digital technologies, including automation, data analysis, and general process improvement. Though companies have reluctantly shelved antiquated manufacturing methods, they stand to benefit immensely from a digital transition. Modern manufacturing can keep up with evolving technology.
Furthermore, digital tools facilitate the rise of self-monitoring production lines. This monitoring is both proactive and reactive.
As McKinsey shares, important improvements arrived a few years ago. Accordingly, the following examples demonstrate past digitalisation’s foundational role in ongoing innovation:
Diving into analytics lets companies adjust manufacturing processes on the fly. Learning how to best configure machinery, software programs, and quality assurance boosts quality and energy efficiency
Streamlining production and eliminating superfluous processes (and machinery) lets facilities dramatically reduce their physical footprints
Digital tools in the consumer goods industry can slash lead times. They also make it easier to connect with customers and secure materials rapidly throughout the supply chain
Materials sourcing and supply chain management are set to become immensely easier, especially in industries where key products have numerous components. Digital graphics and component mapping make vendor-to-vendor sharing simple
We’ve observed the above changes in the metals, pharmaceutical, fashion, and aerospace-defence industries, among others.
Over time, companies that adopt similar digital approaches refine their operations. Contrary to many concerns of C-suite executives, these improved processes will benefit companies’ bottom lines. Though implementing such changes can be tricky, companies can roll them out gradually. Multiple companies have employed this strategy. Accordingly, the next 5 to 10 years will be especially indicative of digital manufacturing’s success.
Digitisation has an ever-growing role in newer innovations. Image Credit: Bigstock
Modernising for Today and Tomorrow
Following past successes, the industry is thrilled by what’s on the horizon. Key areas have already adopted digital manufacturing processes:
Printed Circuit Boards and Other Electronics
Digital production relies on varying degrees of automation and connectivity, and the PCB industry has taken advantage of each. Nano Dimension, an electronics additive manufacturer, touts the IoT’s role in driving digitalisation forward. Cloud computing has unlocked a whole new level of productivity, allowing machinery to communicate. This instant communication dramatically improves efficiency. It also improves manufacturing precision—a key element of producing sensitive electronics with tight tolerances.
Automated systems can learn continually. Previously, manufacturers would have to make manual adjustments in response to production outcomes. With digital tools, connected machines intake large quantities of production data and augment processes accordingly. Identifying required changes, until recently, required large amounts of funding and time. This is where machine learning plays a pivotal role in modernisation.
As PCB technologies grow in complexity, digital systems will be able to adapt in tandem. Fabrication and additive manufacturing are extremely precise. They also adhere to strict materials requirements. Digital systems allow for rapid prototyping through the use of new components and form factors. Companies can complete more test runs in a given amount of time. This means electronic products can go to market quicker by powering through experimentation.
PCB production success is measured by yield rates at scale. Though companies can produce thousands of chips per run, a certain percentage of chips won’t meet quality standards. Digital tools allow companies to patch production issues sooner, boosting yields. Furthermore, production will speed up.
An automated machine completing a stage of printed circuit board manufacturing. Image credit: MacroFab.
Digital Manufacturing for the Automotive Industry
Vehicles are comprised of hundreds of components sourced from multiple suppliers. Resultantly, even the largest automotive manufacturers have difficulty shoring up their supply chains.
Software companies like Oracle have stepped in, providing solutions that digitally manage and track supplies throughout their journeys. These ensure that manufacturers have a firm understanding of their production capability, enabling them to anticipate shipment delays and respond effectively. On a grand scale, similar solutions tap into cloud resources. These allow companies to monitor progress from anywhere, while also tapping into on-site IoT resources. Again, these are excellent alternatives to costly, antiquated measures.
A tablet being used to assist in the monitoring of an automotive manufacturing process. Image credit: Oracle.
Digital tools make upkeep easier. Automotive manufacturers oversee sprawling facilities, with immense mechanical footprints. These machines are becoming more intricate over time. Additionally, many of them may request maintenance at a moment’s notice, whereas previously, mechanical failures occurred without warning.
Feature-rich software applications make predictive maintenance possible. Modern systems are driven by big data, and digital manufacturing tools can use analytics to forecast mechanical failures. This prevents unneeded downtime in facilities, allowing companies to surge forward with zero (or minimal) production impacts.
Per usual, these digital systems provide efficiency and cost insights across the entire manufacturing vertical. Manufacturers can identify low-hanging fruit and make swift corrections.
As the EV market continues to mature, companies will rely on digitalisation to quickly pounce on emerging problems. These digital systems aren’t merely useful to longstanding manufacturers: they will benefit newer companies that need to operate leanly and get off the ground.
The Future Role of Digital Manufacturing
While digital manufacturing has its place in some noteworthy industries, the concept is industry-agnostic. Digital solutions can be employed essentially anywhere where large-scale production is commonplace. Naturally, these digital solutions will mesh well with existing digital infrastructure. Any applications that require remote monitoring and control will benefit greatly.
The products and services we use daily are gaining complex capabilities as time passes. Through digitalisation, companies will be able to meet future challenges more nimbly than ever before.