How Digital Manufacturing Will Improve Efficiency of Post-Pandemic Operations?

April 27, 2021 by Stefanini

The pandemic showed how unprepared the manufacturing industry was for abrupt change. As increased COVID-19 cases disrupted supply chains, production line operations across all major markets were forced to reevaluate their systems and adapt to the demands of keeping the line moving while keeping employee’s safe. As vaccines become available and the concerns of COVID-19 change, how can a reliance on digital manufacturing technologies help your business rise to the challenge of post-pandemic operations?

What is Digital Manufacturing?

The bizarre realities of the last year appeared during a revolution in digital manufacturing technologies. Digital manufacturing, somewhat similar in concept to Industry 4.0, is a broad term that describes a combination of several innovative capabilities that when integrated can revolutionize the functionality of any operation.

The sophistication of digital tools through data analytics and cloud computing have made it possible to provide real time performance updates that transform how a production line operates from end to end, promising reduced costs and enhanced product quality.

This is made possible by implementing intelligent sensors, motors, and robotics into production systems and assembly lines in order to automate analog processes, optimizing performance, leading to more efficient production lines, reduced costs, and better product quality. These capabilities become more important when considering how to operate at reduced capacities. While a team working in a single location is ideal, the demands of social distancing require the use of tools that allow an operation to adapt and collaborate on new solutions. 

According to SME, a survey conducted last summer shows that 47% of U.S. manufactures reported “significant to modest revenue growth” even amidst 2020’s COVID concerns, many attributing this success to investments in enterprise resource planning systems that allowed them to navigate through e-commerce platforms.

While this growth is optimistic, it suggests that over half the industry has faced decline. McKinsey further suggests that not enough manufacturers are engaging with the opportunities afforded by the digital manufacturing tools because implementation requires a comprehensive and coordinated approach.

Digital Transformation and the 21st Century Manufacturing Revolution

Digital transformation employs a series of modern solutions – Internet of Things (IoT), cloud computing, real-time computing, and more – all in the service of creating predictive measures and real-time updates to make your factory more efficient. Digital manufacturing technologies utilize a series of machine sensors that can deliver real-time feedback on performance metrics to intuitive dashboards that allow for swift user analysis and action.

Incorporating this technology does not necessarily mean drastic changes in the existing production process. Rather than trying to redesign a production line from the ground up, digital tools allow for a comprehensive review of a line’s unique production circumstances to find data-driven solutions.  Once implemented, these tools enable manufacturers to fully integrate planning, scheduling, quality, cost management, material movement, and shop floor control.

Remote monitoring enables technicians to anticipate failures and employ preventative repairs as needed. These systems improve optimization of floor schedules, production planning, and decision making. Further, processes can be automated through numerical controlled systems to ensure that floor operators are only deployed when necessary.  This allows a manufacturer to utilize flexible scheduling, whether it be for the customized manufacture of smaller-sized production runs, or when navigating capacity limits for operators on the floor.

Impact of Digitalization on Manufacturing

Digitalization enables manufacturers to reimagine product design from ideation to placement in a customer’s hands. Products are being developed virtually, converting ideas into product and process models that are virtually tested for predetermined requirements. Virtual testing is made possible by creating a digital thread that follows a product from design to production while sharing and analyzing its data from across all supply chain and product lifecycle stages to produce actionable processes. By digitalizing development, a manufacturer can improve a process inexpensively and quickly before production even begins, accelerating time to market.

Additionally, the use of 3D modelling software enables manufacturers to create a digital twin, a real time digital counterpart to all physical assets within a production line.  Through model based systems engineering (MBSE), computer aided drafts of engineering activities and product designs are used to create 3D models for all physical components of a manufacturing operation. Having this digital overview of factory assets allows for customization in the design of tools, machinery, factory floor layouts and production flows.

Once active, a digital twin allows a business to adopt a Cloud-Based Manufacturing (CBM) system, a model that utilizes access to open information from various resources to develop reconfigurable production lines. AI and automation technologies record detailed measurements for each asset while analyzing the data in real time to assess potential improvements in floor layout and to determine the best times for preventative maintenance.

This same technology allow can allow for electronic numerical controlled machine centers to create parts autonomously through additive manufacturing, or 3D printing. Rather than face expensive production line slowdowns, a digital manufacturer finds that solutions are prepared well before an issue arises. These systems all function in tandem to improve efficiency, reduce costs, and improve response to customer needs.

Top 7 Features of Digital Manufacturing

The trend toward digital manufacturing does not necessarily mean that jobs will disappear. In an interview with Design News, Ryan Chan noted that while smarter tech requires less field workers, there will be a growing need for workers who understand the data. “It will not replace human workers, but it will enable manufacturers to be more productive,” Chan states. These innovations call for operators who have clear understanding of the digital tools implemented in their production lines and are prepared to quickly respond to data analysis.

Digital manufacturing technologies extend computer-assisted control and automation over customized products while preserving the existing production line or process. The goal is moving toward efficient human-machine (H2M) interaction, where numerical controlled automated procedures eliminate inefficiency and down-time while promoting predictive maintenance, all of which enables manufactures to become more competitive and efficient. The key features of a digital manufacturer that prepare them for post-pandemic operations are:

1.      The implementation of sensors distributed along the production line and supply chain that retrieve data from all assets.

2.      Reducing resources to produce optimal processes while using data-driven decisions to meet cost and quality objectives.

3.      Real time analytics of big data to control all phases of assembly, distribution, and usage of a product.

4.      Automated numerical controlled processes that allow for improved efficiency and preventive maintenance schedules.

5.      Improved efficiency, eliminated waste, and reduced failures/errors

6.      Integrated systems replacing data silos allowing for automated processes.

7.      Operators who can proactively access, interpret, and act on data analytics.

The manufacturers who are poised to excel in the post-pandemic market are the ones who participate in the digital transformation. Through digital manufacturing technologies, factories can work swiftly, reducing errors while maintaining product quality. Further, the development a digital twin infrastructure allows a manufacture to reimagine their operation, allowing them to rapidly scale and to prepare for unforeseen circumstances. 

Enhance Digital Manufacturing Capabilities with Stefanini

Developing digital manufacturing capabilities requires a careful examination of the existing components and features that make a production line successful.

Stefanini is ready to bring the latest and best digital tools needed to optimize your operation.

Our team of experts will examine your processes and use their knowledge to find the technology that meets the unique concerns of any production line. Ready to get started? Contact us today to speak with an expert!

Our team of experts will examine your processes to find the technology that meets the unique concerns of any production line. Ready to get started?