The Future of Manufacturing

McKinsey recently put out a blog post and podcast on the future of manufacturing. McKinsey partners Katy George and Enno de Boer noted that some factories are moving forward successfully with the digital manufacturing vision. They are implementing automation, artificial intelligence, the Internet of Things (IoT) and digital technology to change the way they operate.

Existing facilities often begin the transition by finding ways to add sensors to existing machines and processes. They bring the signals from these sensors into central repositories for analysis. Machine learning helps them digest the data and find new insights.

Automated maintenance is a major beneficiary. Maintenance scheduling, ordering of spare parts and predictive maintenance have received a new lease of life from digitalization. In some areas, augmented reality (AR) headsets are being used to feed instructions to maintenance personnel.

On the operations side, digital performance management provides customized dashboards that are fed real-time data by sensors with drill down capabilities that allow a manager to isolate the source of issues or slows. Instead of days or weeks to resolve a problem, it can be dealt with effectively during the shift.

Digital manufacturing is only possible by the establishment of a digital thread. This thread pervades the enterprise, providing a way to keep track of the vast amount of changes that are the norm in complex discrete manufacturing. BOMs are updated in real time, as are change management systems, as-builts and related documents. This serves to eliminate human error and minimize dropped balls. It also curtails variability, deviation and loss of productivity. Dramatic improvements in speed of production are often experienced.

McKinsey gave the example of the complex wiring that is required in commercial airplanes. Instead of work instructions being compiled into a phonebook-like manuals, operators can view instructions online, via machine interfaces or even while wearing AR headgear. This takes the bulk of error potential out of the equation.

A common problem being faced in many enterprises, though, is being able to institute digital manufacturing at scale. Many companies are rolling out single IoT and digitalization use cases with limited scope. They are conducting various pilots to test the digitalization waters. What is missing, however, is a determined effort to create a digital thread to unite and transform the enterprise.  

This might be due to many different reasons. Some may be afraid to move beyond the pilot stage, or balk at the investment required to expand the scope of digitalization. Others have perhaps grown too comfortable with traditional approaches. They can’t quite come to terms with the leap of faith required to launch the digital enterprise. Whatever the reason, their efforts never scale. By remaining small, results are relatively minor. It is easy for management to justify the decision to remain conservative.

These companies lack a forward-thinking vision and strategy to propel the company ahead. Investment in digitalization projects remains piecemeal. Meanwhile the competition strides ahead.

What is needed is a bold strategy to embrace digital manufacturing. Strategic investment can then be made in those areas likely to bring the most return. But this must be done sensibly – instead of bit and piece technology adoption, it is advisable to implement in areas that facilitate even broader adoption of digitalization. As McKinsey puts it, a top-down approach is likely to bring a higher rate of return and much faster gains than a bottom-up approach.

Aerospace is, by necessity, a conservative field. But those companies that have taken bold steps towards the institution of the digital thread are emerging as market leaders. The iBase-t Digital Manufacturing Suite provides a streamlined and sure way to scale ongoing digitalization initiatives. It lays the groundwork for an enterprise-wide digital thread. It brings together ERP, PLM and other manufacturing and management system into a unified whole.

Whitepaper: Digital Manufacturing

Digital Transformation Driving IT Spending Rise

IT spending hasn’t been particularly strong since the 2008 recession. But there is good news. It is expected to rise this year according to a report by Enterprise Strategy Group (ESG). An in-depth ESG survey of enterprise users found that 58% of organizations anticipate a jump in IT spending in 2019. Another 39% believe that spending will be relatively flat this year. Only 3% predict a decline in their budgets for 2019. Based on feedback from thousands of companies, ESG estimates that the mean value of the IT spending increase for 2019 to be 24.24% for the year.

That’s a welcome trend for the aerospace and defense supply chain. But those extra dollars are not being evenly distributed around the IT stack. What is driving much of the upsurge, said ESG, is digital transformation. Those organizations engaged in digitalization, whether on a small scale or on a large scale, are boosting IT spend this year.

Transformation initiatives such as digital MRO help to break down barriers between OEMs, asset owners and the aftermarket. Design 3-D models, details drawings, as-maintained records and maintenance requirements are no longer gathering dust in file cabinets, buried under stacks of other documents or existing only as static PDFs. Instead, they are digitized and available online without asset owners needing to parse them manually.

Investment in digital transformation is also targeting the breakdown of the information silos that inhibit collaboration. By doing so, organizations can establish a feedback loop from maintenance and operations to design. Standards become easier to enforce and verify. Processes speed up as they are no longer bogged down by constant manual operations, errors and rekeying of information. Paperwork, if not eliminated, is greatly reduced.

The key to this transformation is the digital thread. The digital thread offers a way to integrate all model data, product structure data, metadata, effectual data, and process definition data and more. It establishes a communication framework throughout the entire lifecycle that spans design, engineering, production and maintenance. The organization, its partners and asset owners can unify their efforts around a single reference point.

No more sluggish progress pegged back by having to leaf through printed manuals, phone people on the shop floor or email suppliers for a production update. With the digital thread, data flows digitally throughout the supply chain. Design specifications, engineering models, as-builts and operational data can be brought together to develop a single source of truth for the enterprise.

The digital twin is another important breakthrough that emerges once the digital thread becomes a reality. This takes traceability and change management to a new level. Every time an engineering change is made during production and every time there is a deviation from the original design, these changes are viewable on an asset’s digital twin.

These digital twins can be used in product design, as a way to enhance production operations and to streamline maintenance programs. Changes and updates are available instantly to all parties. Supply chain partners can more closely collaborate as they can now all refer to the same 3D model. Component deliveries or engineering changes no longer fall through the cracks.

With advancements such as these, it’s no wonder that digital transformation has caught the imagination of management as well as IT. Now is the time to step up the pace on digital initiatives. The iBase-t Digital Manufacturing Suite offers a certain path toward the creation of the digital thread in the enterprise. By establishing the digital thread, complex discrete manufacturers are afforded supply chain unity, rapidity of communication, stronger verification and collaboration certainty. 

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