Many are either beginning to invest in digitizing their manufacturing or are seriously considering the journey towards achieving it. But the approaches and strategies to arriving at that goal vary considerably. Some buy a collection of technologies and hope to cobble them together in a beneficial way. Others buy into one supplier’s vision and try to align their organizational processes to it. More than a few become enamored by the Internet of Things (IoT) or Industry 4.0 initiatives and seek to implement them in an organization with a traditional manufacturing background. Understandably, efforts to capitalize on Digital Manufacturing, to date, have been hit or miss.
What hasn’t been grasped about Digital Manufacturing is that it has several distinct components that must be evaluated and aligned with existing systems and processes. As well as the smart factory, there must also be a digital thread and a means of digitizing the entirety of value chain management.
Probably the easiest component to grasp is the concept of the smart factory. It encompasses connected equipment, automated workflows, collection of real-time data, and complete visibility of all processes, products, equipment, and components. But achieving this vision in the real world does not happen overnight. Equipment must be upgraded or replaced. A great many sensors must be deployed to capture the required information so that it can be synchronized, analyzed and utilized intelligently. Tooling must be brought up to a level where manually intensive and repetitive processes and actions can be automated. Each of these elements must be established on a common platform.
At the same time, the worlds of IT and Operational Technology (OT) must be brought together. Factory floor systems, assembly line processes and engineering management must be able to communicate in real time with ERP, MES, SCM, PLM, analytics engines, and other IT or cloud-based systems. This is necessary to ensure that the flow of products through production processes is orchestrated correctly.
Data can no longer reside in isolated information siloes. It must be available to each system and shared internally so all actions and workflows mesh together seamlessly. Only in this way is it possible to combine a vast sea of organizational data into actionable information.
But standing in the way of this goal is the issue of interoperability. Aging devices, machines, and systems operate on completely different languages and use older protocols than those used in modern IoT and cloud technology. Take the case of quality verification and parts traceability. Complex discrete manufacturers in aerospace and defense, for example, typically struggle with these functions. Spreadsheets, checklists and painstaking manual verification processes are used to ensure as-builts mirror the original design, and to comply with part traceability regulations. Aging systems and information silos stand in the way of Digital Manufacturing progress.
To become a digitally connected manufacturing organization, management must gain access to dashboards that visually represent metrics and KPIs in real time. Its systems must provide alerts concerning areas that are not performing according to expectations. They must be able to drill down into any area of the plant or any system to analyze the situation and find the actual cause. Standing in the way of this is the lack of an end-to-end digital thread.
The digital thread brings unity to the entire enterprise. It must span all process, beginning with engineering design and continue all the way through the product lifecycle. This must encompass sourcing, production and service life, engineering changes, traceability of parts and processes, and more. Anything related to specification, operation, production, customer service, and the supply chain must be contained within the digital thread. This ensures that digital records of ongoing actions and processes exactly match the physical world on the manufacturing floor.
The existence of the digital thread materially assists all areas of discrete manufacturing. Early designs can be modeled many times to determine the ideal approach. This takes a tremendous amount of time out of design iteration and prototyping. As these designs and drawings are digitized, the information flows instantly into supply chain, operational and management systems.
Previously disconnected functional departments are now able to digitally collaborate through a logical thread of integrated data and processes. The result is faster design revision distribution, rapid new product introduction, more accurate translation of designs into product or process specifications, more informed business decisions, full visibility of manufacturing stages, and quicker resolution of issues requiring engineering design changes. No longer is there any need for manual interpretation, transformation, and translation of data between engineering and manufacturing systems. CAD models don’t have to be manually converted to Computer Numerical Control programs for machining, Coordinate Measurement Machine programs for inspection, and MES for assembly.
Value chain management is all about minimizing resources and increasing value-add from each stakeholder function. It spans the management of suppliers, materials, parts, internal departments, and delivery to the end customer. All procedures, forms, and data exchanges in the chain must exist in digitally traceable historical records.
While ERP covered contracts, procurement, receiving, invoicing, purchase orders, delivery and payment, Digital Manufacturing extends control across the entire value chain into all IT and OT systems. It brings the customer into a much closer relationship with regard to design, production and service processes. Customers also benefit from greater visibility and accountability.
Compliance management is another beneficiary. The presence of a digital thread results in a value chain where business processes document and control standard practices. An accurate digital record is instantly available for reporting and auditing purposes. Any and all issues can be quickly isolated, and corrective actions can be tracked. Further, a digital feedback loop leads to continuous improvement.
iBASEt can help you embark confidently upon the journey towards Digital Manufacturing. The iBASEt Digital Manufacturing suite can assist complex discrete manufacturers in the creation of a digital thread and a digital enterprise to improve manufacturing productivity, quality, and compliance. iBASEt is revolutionizing how complex manufacturers digitize their production operations.
A contributing writer at iBASEt.