Digitalization in manufacturing industry: how to start and key challenges

It is undeniable that the coronavirus pandemic has revolutionized the way business is done and brought challenges to many sectors. In the manufacturing industry it was no different.

Technology became part of consumers’ routine, increasing their expectations regarding the purchased product or service.

These consumers, in turn, became more and more demanding, wanting new, individual and high quality products, but at the same time, with reduced cost and delivery time.

Manufacturers needed to find a solution to produce goods from increasingly scarce resources and in the most sustainable way possible.

To meet these requirements, businesses are turning to the digitization of manufacturing, where the real and virtual worlds converge in an Internet of Things, Services and Data.

The digital era brings new challenges for manufacturing

We need to remember that even before the pandemic gripped headlines around the world, we were already living in an era where the promise that Industry 4.0 technologies could transform shop floor operations was high.

Now, with years of pandemic, more than ever, the manufacturing industry is rushing to accelerate its digitization processes, paving the way for the Factory of the Future, also known as Intelligent Manufacturing or Industry 4.0.

Defining the concept of digital manufacturing

You’re probably asking yourself, “but how will digital manufacturing work in the future?”

However, before we delve into how digitization will work in the manufacturing industry and the challenges that come with it, we need to clarify the concept of digital manufacturing.

As its name suggests, digital manufacturing is the application of digital technologies to production processes.

The focus of this manufacturing model is the integration of software and processes along the value chain. In this way, the manufacturer is able to optimize the entire life cycle of the products – from the moment they are designed until the sale to the final consumer.

It is worth noting that we are not just talking about industrial automation. In the case of digital manufacturing, there is the use of innovative resources that transform the routine of companies, such as Artificial Intelligence and intelligent platforms.

For example, imagine a digital mockup of your production lines. In it, you can view all the details of the manufacture, such as tools, supplies, staff and deadlines to be met. In other words, digitally, it is possible to have access to everything the factory needs to keep production on track.

Digital manufacturing characteristics

As we explained, digital manufacturing aims to increase the productivity and operational efficiency of companies with the help of disruptive technologies brought about by Industry 4.0.

For you to better understand this concept, it is important to know the 3 main characteristics of this model.

1. Connectivity

Connectivity is one of the foundations of digital manufacturing. This is because, for it to operate, it is necessary to ensure a good flow of information in real time so that managers can make assertive decisions.

Through it, machines, operators and systems can communicate and share strategic data from the operations.

In practice, a good example of this connectivity is the use of a connected worker platform.

2. Intelligence

The digital manufacturing model provides smart manufacturing.

For this, resources based on Industry 4.0 technologies, such as Artificial Intelligence and Big Data, are widely used in order to make processes more efficient.

Let’s look into the improvement of predictive maintenance. Several tools and equipment make the analysis more accurate and faster, reducing considerable costs in the industry since repairs are carried out periodically, thus avoiding failures in machinery and, consequently, in production.

3. Automation

The third feature of digital manufacturing is industrial automation. More and more, manual processes give way to automated and standardized activities.

Here, once again, technology contributes to productivity and reduction of errors in the production chain, in addition to increasing the safety of shop floor operators.

An example of how this works in practice is the use of autonomous robots that assist in the assembly processes on a production line.

Digital transformation in manufacturing: How is digitization changing the shopfloor?

Before we go into how digitization is transforming manufacturing, let’s take a step back and look at the history of manufacturing and the stages of industrial development. 

The growing desire to make more things for more people is what drives the manufacturing industry.

Water and steam provided the power for the First Industrial Revolution. The Second Industrial Revolution was powered by electricity, giving rise to the modern assembly line introduced by Henry Ford to manufacture the Model T. Years later, through computers, it became possible to mass produce on a global scale, driving the Third Industrial Revolution .

Today, the digitization of virtually every stage of industrial production drives the Fourth Industrial Revolution – the famous Industry 4.0.

Currently, software and tools allow designers and consumers to create digital versions of products, regardless of their size. These products, in turn, can be viewed and tested in augmented and virtual reality. Parts for these products can also be purchased electronically around the world through e-commerce that works through cloud-based inventory management. Furthermore, all components and their usage can be tracked and monitored through the supply chain.

Imagine that a manufacturing owner wants to purchase machinery that facilitates the standardization of their products. He searches on the internet for machinery from different regions of the globe that meet his needs. Before making the purchase, he has the chance to virtually test the functionality of this product and, satisfied, checks the manufacturer’s website for availability in stock and chooses to complete the purchase. Immediately, the manufacturer will be alerted in its system and will send information so that the buyer can track and monitor the entire delivery process. The same process is also possible with parts for maintenance of these products.

Given this scenario, we can say that the digitization of all manufacturing steps is perhaps the main driver of Industry 4.0. While the new models of production outpaced the industrial revolutions, the enormous amounts of data obtained during all stages of industrial production separate the Fourth Industrial Revolution from the three previous ones.

It is noteworthy that this digitization is also the main driver of digital manufacturing.

Digital manufacturing is revolutionizing all phases of product development, from the way they are designed to selling to the end consumer.

However, the first thing we see as digitization transforms the manufacturing industry is the speed of manufacturing. Driven by new consumer habits and behaviors and an accelerated pace of innovation and new product introductions, manufacturing needs to figure out the best way to adapt.

Digitization gives an instant boost to productivity, allowing projects to move forward faster and manufacturers to meet more aggressive deadlines.

Thanks to additive or 3D printing, for example, it is possible to perfectly combine the design phase with the subsequent prototype and test phases. Manufacturers are able to quickly move from design to floor and back again as changes are made by the engineering team. In this way, the move to the manufacturing phase can be almost instantaneous after successful prototyping.

Another big—perhaps the most significant—change in product manufacturing is that many products are being sold on a per-use basis. For example, aircraft engines and excavators are being billed to the customer based on product usage.

When it comes to product design, you can see that computer-aided design (CAD) software tools and their capabilities will continue to grow.

As digitization progresses, the latest CAD products store the product bill of materials (BOM) and their 2D and 3D interfaces analyze product designs to provide a simulation of component behavior under multiple loads, stresses, or environmental circumstances. In this way, they help other stages of product development and testing that tend to consume a lot of time when performed manually.

Suppose the shop floor operator uses the CAD system to perform a machining task. As this software features simulation capabilities, it helps the operator visually inspect the machining process, allowing the capture of tool strokes and collisions at an early stage in production. This feature contributes to the overall productivity of a manufacturing setup, as well as helping to eliminate errors and reduce material waste.

In addition, as most CAD systems provide high speed machine tool paths, it is possible for manufacturers to minimize their cycle time, thereby reducing tool and machine wear and improving machinery productivity by more than 50%.

Digitization in the manufacturing industry is also significantly changing manufacturing processes.

For many years, manufacturing operations have benefited from computerized systems for planning, scheduling, and executing tasks. Manufacturing requirements planning (MRP), capacity planning, and robotics are the cornerstones of today’s economy. The difference for today is in the scale, frequency and precision made possible by today’s systems.

Whereas previous-generation MRP tools took a full day to complete the next day’s manufacturing production schedules, current tools can be run in minutes to adjust to dynamic market conditions.

In addition to these changes, we cannot fail to mention the impacts on the sales, marketing and services sector – perhaps the segments most impacted by the manufacturing digitization process.

Tracking people’s buying habits throughout the sales journey now takes up a significant part of the overall computer application landscape of the modern manufacturer. In addition, smart, connected products allow companies to know the condition of a product before it reaches the customer.

For example, imagine that when transporting a product line to the point of sale, logistics delay delivery or the truck deviates from the route. The smart app notifies the manufacturer and, through the sales code, allows it to track the products and find their location.

These applications can also notify possible production failures, allowing the manufacturer to recall defective lines before they are offered for sale and compromise the company’s image, for example.

These are just some of the ways in which digital technologies are transforming manufacturing. Today’s manufacturer needs to understand these tools and how they can be used to make better, more profitable products to compete in today’s marketplace.

How will digital manufacturing work in the future?

Now that you know how digitization is transforming manufacturing and the characteristics that define digital manufacturing, we need to get back to the question “How will tomorrow’s manufacturing work?” so that we can understand the challenges of this new manufacturing reality, as well as the reasons and benefits to go digital.

In an increasingly near future – and even already made a reality by many companies – all machines, from the milling machine to the welding robot will be networked together.

In addition, each part will have its own built-in system, storing various information, such as about the customer, the desired configuration of the part and its destination.

Digital manufacturing will also allow you to uniquely identify and locate blanks. Not only will it be possible to know the necessary processing steps, these parts will also be connected to the production machines and will be able to communicate with each other to decide the exact moment when production will move to the next step.

In the future, the entire line will no longer stop when a particular station fails. Instead, the work pieces and machines will work together to re-plan the processing sequence.

The result will be an adaptable and “self-organizing” manufacturing process that will not require constant human intervention, yet remains under human control

Digital Manufacturing Challenges

When unprepared, digitization in the manufacturing industry can pose some challenges for manufacturers and shop floor workers. Examples are:

  • Data overload: Processing a lot of data from different sources, and sometimes some without much relevance, can be time-consuming and there are chances of system overload.
  • Lack of skilled labor: New technologies require new skills and it is not always easy to attract and retain skilled talents adapted to new technologies.
  • Problems with global supply chain integration: Digitization in the manufacturing industry is already a reality and manufacturers need to adapt to new trends to remain competitive. The difficulty in keeping up with the constant changes in the market can affect the global supply chain and the competitiveness of companies in relation to others.
  • Difficulty in optimizing internal logistics: Producing what is needed, when it is needed, and doing it as efficiently as possible is the ultimate goal of lean manufacturing. However, optimizing value streams from raw materials to finished products can be a challenge. Finding the right tool is the key to success.

Given the challenges presented, it is very important that everyone in manufacturing – from workers to executive leaders – prepares with complete and integrated tools and software so that the adaptation to the new market reality and the migration to digital are facilitated.

It is also worth remembering that an intuitive and agile solution can help employers in attracting, retaining and training talent.

So why go digital?

Digital is here to stay. But as explained above, digitization in the manufacturing industry can be a challenging process when manufacturers and shop floor workers are not aligned with new market trends.

To understand how digital transformation can help meet the challenges of the new era, you need to understand the advantages of digital manufacturing.

Advantages of starting the digital transformation process in the manufacturing industry

Process optimization

If your company has problems running processes, then digital manufacturing is for you. Industry 4.0 software and technologies have features that help reduce error rates and the need to redo tasks.

In practice, your factory processes will become more fluid and efficient. Plus, with everything running smoothly, your team will have more time to devote to projects that demand more attention.

More efficient production processes

Global studies estimate that the digital transformation will increase work performance by up to 25%, without increasing the workload or working hours of employees. Simply, the digital transformation will make production processes more efficient.

Improvement of maintenance processes (predictive maintenance)

Maintenance processes are essential for the functioning of the industry. However, it is not always easy to ensure that all machines are at peak performance.

By moving manufacturing to digital, monitoring machine performance becomes much easier. That’s because maintenance activities are now supported by innovative tools that help track failures in advance, such as Solvace’s Operational Excellence 4.0 platform.

In practice, the intelligent platform’s predictive maintenance allows connected devices to send a signal to workers to fix a particular item as its reliability declines. This process also reduces the need for an on-call maintenance team as digital manufacturing machinery will work longer with less unplanned downtime.

Factory modernization

The modernization of the industry is one of the consequences of adopting digital manufacturing. After all, processes are now automated and based on technology.

Modern factories are letting go of inefficient manual processes, thus increasing market competitiveness.

Flexible and customized manufacturing environment

Another significant advantage in the industrial environment after starting the digital transformation process is the possibility of making it more flexible and customized.

Digital manufacturing makes use of real-time logistics to meet demands as they arise, fully in line with the taste and needs of partners and consumers.

This customized demand, in addition to promoting the modernization of the factory and enhancing the consumer experience, increases competitiveness and allows the company to stand out from competitors that have not yet started the digital transformation process.

Better use of data

The digitization of manufacturing makes managers better use the data at their disposal. After all, they have real-time access to everything that goes on in the factory and can make really safe decisions.

In a scenario of high competition, making the right choices is a differentiator. Therefore, take advantage of the automation tools, evaluate the data and always pay attention to the reports.

Failure prevention

Monitoring machines connected by Internet of Things (IoT) sensors helps to predict failures and make assertive decisions before equipment breaks down.

Because data is collected in real-time, manufacturing is able to perform predictive maintenance and minimize production downtime.

Overall equipment effectiveness (OEE)

If the manufacturer knows exactly where and why it is wasting resources – which is possible thanks to Industry 4.0 technologies – it can take all necessary actions to improve the overall performance of its equipment.

Cost reduction

Another benefit of digitization in the manufacturing industry that deserves to be highlighted is the remarkable reduction in costs. This benefit is perceived in several ways, as there is a better use of available resources. After all, if there are fewer errors, wasted time and unscheduled production stoppages, it is clear that the company saves and increases its profitability, isn’t it?

Through lean digital manufacturing, business resources are used more efficiently, thus reducing wasted time, labor, materials, etc.

CNI predicts that by 2025 the impact of digitization will promote a 10% to 40% reduction in maintenance costs for industries. Currently, this can already be verified through the greater durability of the machines, thanks to efficient programs for detecting failures and production bottlenecks, which prevent equipment from breaking due to preventive analysis.

Tests in the virtual environment

Digitization enables the development of digital twins, virtual models that simulate real product properties. This eliminates the need for physical prototypes, which cut costs and fixes potential flaws before the official product release.

Time to market reduction

The integration between product engineering and production engineering reduces research and development time. Thus, the company can bring its products to market faster, as it is possible to perform all the testing steps in the virtual environment.

Generation of new opportunities

This entire scenario of digital transformation present in industries opens the door to countless other opportunities, both for new businesses and for professions, positions and functions.

For example, a 3D machine with Industry 4.0 technology requires a 3D engineer to design models for that machine, a technical engineer to design it, and a technician to perform maintenance. Not to mention that an entire team will take advantage of the facilities that the machinery offers.

Furthermore, there is no doubt that new insights will be generated as manufacturing adapts to new technology and discovers all its possibilities.

This favors the innovation environment as a whole, including the speed of launching new products or services offered.

Greater security

In addition to all specific Occupational Safety legislation, the industry that begins its journey of digital transformation also offers greater safety in production processes.

This enables a safer environment not only for the employee, due to the technology applied to machines and tools, but also provides safer financial and commercial negotiations for shareholders, investors and consumers.

Makes storage smarter

The digital transformation in the industry makes storage facilities smarter. It is possible to make warehouses and document storage centers more efficient and reliable.

For example, scanning paper documents protects them from disasters (such as lost and leaked information) while freeing up space.

Warehouses with automated storage and retrieval systems (AS / RS) use available space more efficiently.

A warehouse with AS / RS may have higher shelves and narrower aisles than a facility that relies on forklifts and humans for retrieval. In addition, automating the storage system reduces the number of trained personnel needed.

This type of warehouse also keeps workers in the warehouse safer as they do not operate forklifts and other heavy item storage machines.

Zeal for transparency in business

Intelligent machines have something special: they detect irregularities before they get in the way of the smooth running of operations.

Thus, it is easier to maintain transparent management and have quick access to data and complete reports on the performance of each production component, including human performance.

Promotion of environmental conservation and sustainability

Since the digital industry seeks to be lean to reduce costs and waste, there is greater awareness of the environment and sustainable practices.

Improves communication with suppliers

Through real-time communications, you can find out where your supplies are at any time. This enhanced supply chain information can help you better manage your operations.

How to go digital: guide for industries

1. Identify which stage of digital transformation your business is in

The digital transformation process can be divided into four maturity levels, where the first level concerns an environment in which systems, machines and sensors are not connected and the last level is consistent with manufactures where Machine Learning and Artificial Intelligence work to identify efficiencies, generate new configurations and send instructions to the machines.

Understanding the four levels of smart manufacturing and what stage your business is in will give you a clear overview of the digital transformation journey and the potential benefits each stage can offer.

2.Set goals to be achieved

Work with your team to develop your strategy. Identify the types of issues you want to solve with smart manufacturing, set a clear deadline, and set your expectations and key performance indicators (KPIs) accordingly.

Define your plan in a master document so that everyone is aligned from the start. Planning your strategy as a team will help you avoid communication issues and encourage stronger collaborative relationships.

3. Invest in automation

The smart factory is linked to investment in automation. It encompasses intelligent machines, sensors and tools to provide employees with real-time data about the processes they are running. It forms the bridge between Operations Technology (OT), which exchanges data directly with Information Technology (IT) machines, tools, systems and applications.

Both are enhanced by business intelligence systems that perform in-depth analysis. This leads to real-time visibility into plant processes, optimization of process control, and insight into potential areas of performance or process improvement.

4. Train your employees

The adoption of digital manufacturing also demands investment in team training. This ranges from issues such as awareness of the importance of changes for the business to training in the use of new technologies.

This is a way to guarantee that the planned strategies are put into practice and bring the expected results. Furthermore, it also involves a change in the organizational culture, in which technology takes on a more strategic role and not just as a support for operations.

5. Empower leaders

Just as training employees is essential to guarantee the effectiveness of the strategy, it is also necessary to invest in the training of leaders — as they are the bridge between the operational levels and management. 

They need to understand the strategy, objectives, changes and what is expected, so that they act based on these issues and lead the teams towards the expected results. Thus, everyone involved in the process comes to better understand their role within it and is able to work with a focus on the objectives.

6. Track market changes over time

It may seem obvious, but the digital dynamic is constantly changing.

Many leadership teams decide where they want to be in 5 to 10 years and then forget to adjust their goals as competition, markets and technologies evolve.

Successful companies monitor developments in industry and technology and set the path for their long-term vision as the world around them evolves.

A quick test-and-learn approach allows these companies to add and remove elements based on what’s relevant and what’s not. Getting the digital manufacturing investments right is all about putting these growing mountains of data to work and staying agile.

Solvace can help your company achieve operational excellence in digital manufacturing

Solvace is a company specializing in the development of high-performance solutions for manufacturers who believe that Operational Excellence and Digitization are key enablers to improve business results.

For this, we have a team of professionals with extensive expertise in the factory floor, revolutionary software with cutting-edge technologies and the collaboration of OpEX’s main consultants.

We believe that all manufacturing employees should be able to use their platforms as part of a performance management system.

Our main objective is to empower front-line workers with tools that make their work easier and, at the same time, connect factories of different organizations in a management system that promotes performance and knowledge management.

In this context, Solvace’s connected work platform is the ideal solution for your company. Our solution has the broadest coverage in the market to digitize Operational Excellence activities, driving greater efficiency and effectiveness for the entire industry.

Born on the factory floor, Solvace’s platform is built on an all-in-one modular logic, with a single highly efficient and secure database capable of quickly and easily sharing information between front lines and different factories .

The company makes it clear to its customers that despite technological advances and the need for companies to invest in digital to remain competitive, workers are a critical factor for the success of the strategies in Industry 4.0.

Thus, Solvace’s platform is designed to combine industry 4.0 technologies with human work, empowering employees and optimizing their operations. The solution connects all manufacturing employees, generating operational insights and empowering employees at all levels.

For example, the complete set of tools present on the Solvace platform empowers employees in an intuitive way. Reports based on real-time data allow managers to make better decisions. We work “side by side” to find the best solutions and deliver excellent results to our customers.

Global partners and customers trust Solvace to achieve operational excellence in Industry 4.0. There are already more than 50 satisfied customers, distributed in more than 75 countries and in several segments, such as Services, Consumer Goods, Food and Beverage, Packaging, Process Industry, Automotive, Aerospace, Chemical and Pharmaceutical.

Contact us and request a free demo today!