Modern manufacturing is taking on a new appearance as technology advances. Thomas Tong, senior partner success manager of Asia-Pacific South at Dassault Systèmes, describes the factors involved in optimising business strategies.
Digitalisation is enabling a reinvention of manufacturing. It is a core component of a new industry renaissance – the merger of automation, the Internet of Things (IoT), AI, business processes, big data, and cloud computing. It is reshaping how manufacturers innovate and respond to customer demands. Manufacturers that embrace digitalisation can transform from a traditional mass-production model to mass personalisation.
There are four key characteristics of modern manufacturing. The first is being creative, which enables new business models with cost-effective mass personalisation, while second – being smart – improves speed and agility with real-time learning. Value connects value end-to-end from ideation through manufacturing to ownership and eliminating unwanted waste. Finally, humanity empowers collaboration and augmenting human creativity.
Digitalisation enhances collaboration across the enterprise by enabling digital continuity from ideation to production through post-sales service. It is a phenomenon that is taking hold globally as more manufacturers move from mass manufacturing to a new era of digitally-informed production.
The key attributes of a fully digitised manufacturing environment are considered game-changers for manufacturers to win the race for new customers and enrich existing customers.
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 and 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.
Manufacturers can model the process without investing in physical equipment to determine if a concept can become “manufacturing ready.” This increases their ability to respond quickly to market demands and minimises related production costs.
Swedish truck and bus manufacturer Scania AB, for example, uses Dassault Systèmes 3DEXPERIENCE platform to validate its vehicles more quickly, shortening delivery time to eight weeks, with a wide range of possible configurations available for their customers. This allows the company to sell its user-configured trucks in a highly competitive market at a premium price compared to the competition – and at a cost that is nearly the same as that to produce standard trucks.
Truly smart manufacturing uses data to build predictive models that help manufacturers optimise their business strategy and increase operational agility. This means that manufacturers can see the physical and virtual product data simultaneously. For instance, instead of using plant performance reports to build a model of how the product moves through individual stations, simulations show the actual product as it moves through production as well as information about its design characteristics. The process helps identify problems more efficiently because it eliminates the need to manually translate data to visually conceptual information.
A single source of digital truth for manufacturing makes for easier collaboration across departments. Shared conceptualisation means that everyone across the enterprise sees the exact same information. They have digital continuity, in which the organisation can update the data in the underlying system much faster because there is only one place to see it.
Smart and creative manufacturers drive value for their customers, suppliers and employees. Manufacturers maximise value creation when they have end-to-end connectivity from product ideation to ownership. True end-to-end visibility requires digital continuity. This is when everyone and every system across the organisation receives “singular or the exact same information.”
Digital continuity within the product life cycle 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 the 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.
Chinese steel producer HBIS Group Tangsteel Company turned to a digital platform to enable a demand-driven supply chain, and digitalisation helped the company improve its inbound schedules and delivery of the products, as well as workflow. The producer can now instantly take into consideration changes to the market price, the on-time and downtime of the machines, and even tell customers exactly which production line is making their product.
The human touch
Analytics, AI, and automation tools are going to provide plant workers with more autonomy and actionable insights. As manual tasks are automated, workers will be freed to focus on more value-creating activities.
The 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 wealth of opportunities to 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 are the only people who can articulate how everyone in the organisation will benefit and how their roles will evolve.
Another Chinese producer, this time in trains, CRRC Tangshan Co., Ltd. previously relied heavily on human labour to perform manual tasks and is now shifting to a higher level of automation. It is also moving toward a cellular manufacturing model where workers perform multiple tasks at each workstation. This means while some processes are becoming more automated, employees have the opportunity to enhance their skill sets.
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. To remain competitive, they will need to adopt at least some form of digitalisation and transform. Leaders will differentiate themselves with innovative products, improved productivity, and exceptional service. Ultimately, they will be more agile and able to meet customer demands for customised, on-demand products.