Digital Transformation in Manufacturing: Goodbye Business as Usual

COVID-19 and other global trends have disrupted supply chains and manufacturing to the point where many believe these industries will have a hard time ever fully recovering. What the naysayers have perhaps not considered, however, is the digital transformation happening in manufacturing. 

Emerging digital technologies are combining to reshape the industry in exciting and powerful new ways, bringing entirely new levels of possibility.

Digital Transformation in Manufacturing Is Impacting Everything, Everyone, and You

digital transformation happening in manufacturing

What is digital transformation in manufacturing? Digital manufacturing refers to the use of computers to improve the efficiency, scope, and speed of manufacturing operations. Digital tools can connect and simplify manufacturing processes, integrating operations across the cycle to streamline design, production, servicing, and more.

The goals of digital transformation in industrial manufacturing, whichever technology is deployed, are to:

  • Reduce operating costs
  • Accelerate production
  • Add cohesion between the different stages of the manufacturing process

Some digital-savvy manufacturers have already centralized their entire manufacturing process into a single software platform, enabling ultra-simple management.

But data centralization is just one aspect of digital manufacturing. In this blog we’ll cover some of the most interesting technologies in the space and explain why they’re important.

7 Digital Transformations in Manufacturing That Are Changing How We Produce Anything

1. Machine Learning, AI, and Robotics

Robotic arms and the like have long been a staple in manufacturing. Those robots are about to become a whole lot smarter thanks to the rise of artificial intelligence and machine learning.

By applying ever-improving AI and ML to manufacturing processes, machines will gain the ability to execute activities that have up to now been conducted by humans. This is because it will allow them to solve problems and complete actions that mimic more human-like behaviors.

Manufacturers know that getting machines to replace human work is a powerful growth driver because it allows them to accelerate production while reducing labor costs. Machines can do things quickly, efficiently, and without making errors, and AI and ML are about to take that to the next level by becoming the ‘brains’ of factory robotics, vehicles, and drones.

2. IIoT

Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) differs from its cousin Internet of Things (IoT) in that it focuses on applications in industry, with manufacturing being one of the most prominent IIoT sectors.

IIoT technologies allow businesses to monitor and analyze their production process in real-time by linking sensors and other equipment that gathers data to software dashboards that present highly valuable data insights. Companies use these insights for predictive maintenance, energy efficiency, supply chain tracking, demand forecasting, and more.

Most manufacturers that remain in business today understand the importance of such data-driven technologies in enabling them to maintain a competitive edge in our digital economy. In fact, it is hard for many to imagine going back to paper or legacy software approaches now that they’ve seen that sensors and dashboards can add ‘digital eyes’ to their production lines.

Digital Transformation Examples in Manufacturing and Other Industries

Find out how Netsurit is supporting digital transformation in manufacturing, insurance, and accounting

3. 3D Printing

3D printing, aka additive manufacturing, is a game-changer for manufacturing because it has the potential to greatly accelerate and reduce the costs of processes such as prototyping. 

Rather than having to source or manufacture components the old-fashioned way, 3D printing allows companies to take blueprints, add material to a printer, and have the printer feed out a precise product.

3D printing often works best for low-volume products and customized products, and increasingly offers flexibility in the materials that manufacturers can use in the printers. Designers like 3D printers because they allow them to test and troubleshoot their products in a cost-effective way, without having to take them through the traditional manufacturing process.

This is a space to watch as 3D printers become more advanced.

4. Augmented and Virtual Reality

AR/VR technologies are set to become major drivers of digital transformation in the manufacturing industry, empowering employees to be more productive by arming them with new capabilities. 

For example, a VR headset could give an assembler a precise viewpoint of where parts need to be placed, or a floor manager could have data feeds update in real-time while they go about their day.

The manufacturing worker of the future will likely need to gain new skills as AR and VR enter the factory because their methods of working will evolve. For businesses, it will be well worth the transition, as each employee augmented by wearable tech will become far more efficient.

Other use cases of AR/VR include rapid prototyping which allows manufacturers to view a 3D representation of a design and maintenance manuals that appear in a worker’s VR glasses.

5. Digital Twins

Manufacturing Digital Transformation

Digital twin is a term you will often hear twinned with digital transformation in industrial manufacturing. A digital twin is a digital representation of a physical asset, meaning it has a wide range of applications in manufacturing including product development, design customization, predictive maintenance, and more.

The most ambitious kind of digital twin is the digital twin of an organization (DTO), which is the virtual representation of an entire business. Having a DTO can help businesses experiment with alternative processes and business models without changing anything about their real-world systems, helping them to test new things that could boost production or cut costs.

In a fast-paced, just-in-time world where manufacturers are loath to shut down production even for a day, digital twins serve as a powerful sandbox that enables innovation while the business can continue pumping out products and serving market demand.

6. Analytics and Predictive Maintenance

Success in manufacturing has always been about speed, precision, quality, and keeping the machines that make the products operating smoothly. Over time, technology has allowed manufacturers to take each of these factors to incredible heights.

With the rise of advanced data analytics and predictive maintenance, they’re aiming even higher. Maintenance in particular is an area where manufacturers have been able to use digital technology to replace their routine checks with a real-time, sensor-enabled dashboard tool.

These predictive tools allow workers to identify machine problems before they cause issues by sending alerts and notifications on what maintenance is required. Analytics tools can also provide insights into the likes of inventory issues and pricing optimization.

7. 5G-Enabled Smart Manufacturing

We can’t do a post about digital transformation in the manufacturing industry without mentioning 5G, which will play a key role in bringing Industry 4.0 (the fourth industrial revolution) to life because of its breakneck speed, high capacity, and wireless flexibility.

5G is the stepping stone to making ‘smart factories’ a reality, massively enhancing all the technologies we have covered in this post by allowing them to interact in a seamless, lightning-fast way. Some companies, like Audi, are already testing 5G in their factories, and the car manufacturer has used it to slash up to 50% off its delivery times.

Unlock Value and Efficiencies With Manufacturing Digital Transformation

At Netsurit we’re fascinated by the digital innovation happening in the manufacturing world, and we jump at opportunities to help customers create digital transformation strategies and gain a competitive advantage.

Get in touch today to learn more and find out how we can help you get ahead with digital manufacturing.

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