The term Digital Transformation means different things for different people. Some people might think of it as switching from manual processes to autonomous processes, while for others it might be about the insights that the data brings, which can help in making business decisions. What can Digital Transformation or moving towards Industry 4.0 do for the manufacturing sector? It can lead to enhanced production cycles, increased customization, a focus on reinforced products and better access to information for employees.
About a couple of centuries ago, the Industrial Revolution changed the face of the manufacturing sector in the US and Europe. The last time we saw a massive revolution in manufacturing was when Henry Ford introduced the concept of mass production to the automobile sector. Years later, we are about to witness how digital transformation brings significant changes to the manufacturing sector. With the advent of digital transformation, manufacturers are adopting smart technologies to move from mass production to customized production.
According to PwC, out of 2000 manufacturing companies, 86% expect to secure simultaneous gains from both lower costs and added revenue from their digitalization efforts in the next five years.
The typical image that comes to our mind of factories and smokestacks when we think about ‘industry’ needs to change. With manufacturers embracing digital transformation, the face of a factory or manufacturing unit is transforming. As transformational technologies like IoT, Cloud, ML and AI mature, it is time for manufacturers to move towards Industry 4.0.
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Digital Transformation for Smart Manufacturing
Smart Manufacturing, also referred to as Industry 4.0, is a balanced combination of traditional manufacturing techniques and recent technologies such as the Internet of Things, cloud computing, data analytics, and machine learning.
The digitalization of the manufacturing sector, or as we call it – the fourth industrial revolution – has several related terms. Some call it the Industrial Internet of Things, while others prefer the terms digital factory or smart factory.
Regardless of the term that is used to refer to Industry 4.0, its aim is to create an end-to-end digital ecosystem by digitalizing a large number of physical assets throughout the value chain.
Until now, components of a smart factory such as sensors, cloud infrastructure, and data analytics were only available to large-scale manufacturers due to the resources and cash they were capable of allocating. Now, all of these technologies are a lot more affordable, allowing mid-size and small manufacturers to benefit equally from transformational technology.
Data is at the center of the Industry 4.0. Collection of data, data analysis, and communicating that data using a wide range of state-of-the-art technologies underpins the improvements that the Industrial Internet of Things is expected to bring. Let’s explore what manufacturers can expect to achieve as they embrace digital transformation.
1) Enhanced production cycles
Consumer demands and expectations are continually evolving, so the ability to alter products according to customer feedback can give an edge to a manufacturer. With the advent of new technologies, it has become much easier to make last-minute changes to the production cycles.
Predictive analytics can help resolve a range of operational issues, allowing manufacturers to improve quality control, boost operational efficiency, and create a safer production environment. Manufacturers will be able to predict when a manufacturing machine is about to fail or needs maintenance. In addition, they will gain access to asset performance data, be able to identify the elements that are delaying the speed of production cycle, and get insights that might be helpful in taking important production decisions.
2) Increasing demand for customization
Before a few years customizing products would cost more and require more time to create. Mass production was not an option to manufacture customized products, as the time and cost involved in creating customized products in different batches would skyrocket. With the adoption of technology, manufacturers have developed the ability to create personalized products based on demand at a competitive rate.
The reason behind this is the ability to feed the data regarding the features of a personalized product into the production machines, which would then consider all the customization parameters while working on the production line. This seems to be applicable even for lower-priced products, thus discarding the one-size-fits-all approach for low range products.
The demand for customization might be a source of worry for many manufacturers out there. However, it presents an opportunity to establish a loyal customer base by delivering the products with exact functionalities and features that the customers are looking for. This is great news for many budding manufacturing companies to get some market attention swapped from the big players. Moreover, already established players should also give enough consideration to product customization and adopt the latest technologies to stay in the game.
3) Reinforced products
Converting a traditional factory to a smart factory will result in assets and products that can monitor their own performance, predict failures, as well as notify operators about the maintenance needs. Getting to know the exact areas where the production process needs improvement can help the manufacturers to enhance the product and make it more relevant to the target customers.
Machine learning is going to have a major contribution in predicting asset behavior by analyzing historic behavior patterns. Other technologies that are set to transform the global manufacturing industry are virtual reality and augmented reality. Virtual reality and augmented reality can revolutionize the way products are designed and can provide live demos to deliver a realistic experience of the product. This can allow manufacturers to test the product even before it hits the assembly line, which can help save a lot of time and money.
4) Information access to employees
Digitalization of an enterprise brings in collaboration tools and platforms that provide employees with easy access to information that they need with the flexibility to access it from anywhere and from any device.
Manufacturers can also expect to gain some real benefits by giving a bird’s-eye view of the entire supply chain to the employees through improved CRM, ERP, and Customer Experience Mapping. Access to a common master data that is updated in real-time will give all the employees – working across different parts of the supply chain – one common truth, which will be up-to-date and reliable. This will allow employees to make informed decisions regarding products, assembly line, and the marketing strategy.
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Getting to Industry 4.0 status
Digital transformation is undoubtedly crucial for the success of manufacturing as well as other industries. At this point, the CTOs and CIOs who have already begun the process for digital transformation in their organization know that it is not just another market trend, rather it is the only way to stay competitive and relevant in the current market. The points that were covered here will crop up as manufacturers embark on their journey towards Industry 4.0 or a digital factory.
eInfochips has helped several clients in their industrial automation projects. Starting from the strategy phase to planning, implementation, and managed services, eInfochips has accompanied companies in their digital transformation journey. If your business wants to adopt digital transformation technologies as a part of Industry 4.0 initiatives, get in touch with us.