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How to convert a traditional manufacturer in a Digital factory

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A storm of disruptive technology has impacted the traditional manufacturing industry in the past decade setting a modern standard for 21st century industrial businesses. From additive production right up to Predictive Maintenance, the potential of digitalization and Industry 4.0 is massive.

Organisations, including small to medium businesses, have the opportunity to improve their competitiveness through digital transformation and evolve into Digital Factories. Of course, many Production companies are wishing to be a Digital factory but they still haven't reacted.

The AMGC estimated ( link to study ) that the ‘size of the prize’ from improving Australia’s manufacturing competitiveness could be an additional 25–35% of national output, worth $36 billion by 2026. Some experts consulted by AMGC further suggested that a realistic target should be to lift the manufacturing sector’s contribution to 25% of gross domestic product (GDP). This would enable Australia to move into the top 15 on the Global Manufacturing Index, up from its current position of 21st.

The possibilities of intelligent networking in companies seem endless. Work pieces plan their own production process, machines communicate with one another and millions of sensors provide data which enables faster and better decisions. However, a strategic approach to digital factory and process optimisation, should not be restricted to production: all departments, from procurement to sales, right up to customer service, should be involved. Customers also gain from completely new products and service experience. Examples of successfully implemented Digital Factory worldwide demonstrate how business processes are automated using IoT, how costs are saved and how new business models are developed.

In which areas of a Digital Factory IoT and real time data analytics reduce costs?

  • Shop floors and inventory control → improved capability for forecasting and inventory optimisation
  • Shipping → optimised consolidation and management of shipments
  • Machine maintenance → ability to move from reactive to predictive maintenance

The fields of activity are complex and midsize companies must structure the future without endangering running operation – a difficult balance which requires courage and know-how.

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Digitalization in product development provides many different starting points

On an operative level, the main concern is to promote digital factory continuity in product development. Product development often remains unconnected on isolated system islands.

Besides the transfer of CAD data to the ERP, the integration of online catalogs, PDM and ERP systems are part of the measures enabling significant advancement in process automation and stabilization.

In actual development efforts, “Augmented Reality”/”Virtual Reality” applications are becoming more important. They give global development teams the opportunity to work in cooperation on a virtual 3D models of a prototype: visualising it from different views, including on the inside, interacting and adding additional information or comments in specific positions. Working with a digital twin means faster development and a shorter Time-to- Market.

The possibilities of Rapid Prototyping using 3D printing can also be seen in a similar context. Based on construction data, prototypes are printed directly by the 3D printer. This can massively reduce costs and time required in product development.

For example, Desktop Metal’s 3D printer is based on a technology it calls “single-pass jetting”, featured this way by Forbes: it’s a bi-directional metal printing process that uses more than 32,000 jets in conjunction with powder spreaders to jet millions of droplets per second. Like this manufacturers can create more parts in minutes instead of hours.

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On a strategic level, companies in the B2B environment see new business models as a great opportunity. This is how previously purely production companies develop into providers of complete solutions and offer your company more added value through a combination of different products, software and services. Even the trend moving away from ownership – one-time purchase – to use, a pay-per-use business model, for example, is being addressed by companies and converted into new business models. For example, customers in plant and mechanical engineering can be provided with a machine, including service and maintenance, as a service, and be invoiced a service fee.

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