This article was originally published in the Summer 2018 issue of The Record.
Digitalisation is enabling a reinvention of manufacturing. It’s a core component of a new industry renaissance – the merger of automation, the internet of things (IoT), artificial intelligence (AI), business processes, big data and cloud computing. It’s reshaping how manufacturers innovate and respond to customer demands.
Customers want more personalised products in today’s on-demand economy. Manufacturers that embrace digitalisation can transform from a traditional mass production model to mass personalisation.
In doing so, they embody the four key characteristics of modern manufacturing.
First, modern manufacturing is creative. It enables new business models with cost-effective mass personalisation. Traditional manufacturers are bringing high-tech, innovative products to market with the help of advanced technologies such as 3D printing, IoT, AI and robotics. In the past, complex, unique products required time-consuming changes to the design and operation of a manufacturer’s production system. Now, everything about designing, engineering and building a product can be digitalised and synchronised with the actual physical production assets. Dassault Systèmes calls this digital environment the 3DEXPERIENCE Twin.
Second, modern manufacturing is smart, improving speed and agility with real-time learning. The term ‘smart manufacturing’ is often used interchangeably with automation or IoT, but truly smart manufacturing uses data to build predictive models that help manufacturers optimise their business strategy and increase operational agility.
The latest simulation tools now include behavioural functionality that supports the most powerful human knowledge attributes, according to Dr Michael Grieves, co-director of the Center for Advanced Manufacturing and Innovative Design at the Florida Institute of Technology. They include conceptualisation, comparison and collaboration. “Taken together, these attributes form the foundation for the next generation of problem solving and innovation,” Grieves writes.
Value is the third key characteristic of modern manufacturing. Connecting value end-to-end from ideation through manufacturing to ownership, and eliminating unwanted waste, is a game-changing approach.
Smart, creative manufacturers drive value for their customers, suppliers and employees. They maximise value creation when they have end-to-end connectivity from product ideation to ownership. True end-to-end visibility requires digital continuity. Grieves describes this as when everyone and every system across the organisation receives “singular or the exact same information.”
Digital continuity within the product lifecycle is particularly critical. It ensures the operations team has the information it needs from engineering to meet design specifications. It also means information is fed back to designers, so they can continually assess and improve products. In addition, increased visibility into how different functions impact each other helps manufacturers adapt to customer needs.
Finally, manufacturing in the digital age is human empowering collaboration and augmenting human creativity. Digital transformation means roles across the organisation will change. Analytics, artificial intelligence and automation tools are going to provide plant workers with more autonomy and actionable insights. While many manual tasks will disappear, workers will be freed to focus on more value-creating activities.
Digital transformation opens the doors to creativity. Employees have the tools and information they need to be more engaged and drive bottom-line results. Digitalisation provides a lab of opportunities and possibilities to investigate and validate all the possible ways to improve the business and industrial processes that manufacturers want to optimise.
It also helps address skilled workforce challenges. If manufacturers want to attract the best talent, they need to demonstrate they have the technology, know-how and creativity of a modern manufacturing environment. Unlike deployments of standard, transactional systems, digitalisation cannot be an IT-driven initiative. Executives must be the champions of change because they’re the only people who can articulate how everyone in the organisation will benefit and how their roles will evolve.
Leaders must assess where the company stands, how much change is possible and the steps involved. They should focus on quick, incremental improvements to demonstrate the benefits of change immediately. Communication is critical during this stage because middle management will transition from a role of information ownership to data sharing. They will be responsible for leveraging the data to drive results.
Digitalisation is advancing at such a rapid pace that markets are undergoing a ‘technology renaissance’. Digital continuity strategies are already having a major impact on the way manufacturers design, produce, sell and service their products – so what’s next? We can expect digitalisation strategies to continue driving improvements in five key areas, including innovation, customisation, continuous improvement initiatives, supply chain management and workforce engagement.
To remain competitive, manufacturers will need to adopt at least some form of digitalisation and transform. Frost & Sullivan predicts that B2B digital platform commerce could result in sales of $6.7 trillion by 2020, double the amount it projects for B2C business. Leaders will differentiate themselves with innovative products, improved productivity and exceptional service. They will be more agile and able to meet customer demands for customised, on-demand products.
This article is based on the Industry Week and Dassault Systèmes eBook, ‘Digitalization and continuity: 4 game-changing approaches for manufacturers’
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