Digital Transformation For Machine Shops
We’ve all heard that digital technology is changing the face of the modern machine shop.
But unless your job is to report on new technologies, it can be hard to follow the deluge of new advances.
It’s even harder to know which ones will work in your operations.
So in this post, we’ll take a tour of the digital machine shop.
We’ll take a high-level view of recent trends by focusing on 4 key areas.
The goal is to help you find ways that digital technology can help increase the profitability of your machine shop.
What is a Digital Machine Shop?
I’m going to use the phrase “Digital Machine Shop” a lot, so it helps to make sure we’re all on the same page.
A digital machine shop is simply a machine-heavy manufacturing operation that makes a concerted effort to apply digital tools to its processes.
This is a vague definition. But here’s why vague is good.
It doesn’t make sense to put hard boundaries in place when digitization is a spectrum. Some factories have a few digitized processes or machines. Others have full lines or cells. Others, full plants.
The term would lose its descriptive value if it were only applied to a hypothetical, fully networked factory.
More than anything, “digital machine shop” is a mindset.
It’s an approach to manufacturing processes and technologies that values smart experimentation. Digital machine shops are open to new possibilities, whether as early adopters or when necessity strikes.
So without further ado, here are four features that define the modern machine shop.
The Digital Machine Shop is Transparent
Information is power. Data is more valuable than oil. You know the drill.
So first and foremost, the digital machine shop provides a holistic, transparent view of production.
Manufacturers in machine shops have shared a common set of questions:
- Are we meeting expectations for uptime?
- What’s OEE for the day? The week?
- Was there any unplanned downtime? If so, what were the reasons?
- Are all machines in good working condition?
- Where are my machine tools? How much time and wear is on them?
- Are we meeting maintenance schedules?
The digital machine shop offers answers to all of these questions. By monitoring machine state, performance, and condition, any and all machine information is accessible in real-time.
And simple applications like tool tracking–tracking tool location, wear, and work history–let you know exactly where every tool is, as well as it’s condition.
More than anything, connected machines provide a source of truth for the whole operation.
Your machine dashboards, anywhere
Information is only as valuable as it is accessible.
In the digital machine shop, information is visible to everyone on the shop floor. And through advances like remote machine terminals, it’s visible wherever you need it.
On the shop floor, in the office, on a mobile phone–wherever. The digital machine shop brings data to where you are.
The Digital Machine Shop is Connected
Whether it’s a workhorse analog machine or a new machine with native digital connectivity, the digital machine shop brings its machines online.
With connectivity to the cloud, edge devices, and machine-to-machine communication, there are more connection points than ever. All of this means more, and better, data.
But machines aren’t the only thing connected in the digital machine shop.
Crucially, people are too.
If you’ve spent time in manufacturing, you know that what happens around the machine is just as important as what goes on inside. Human behavior, job routing, and tool location are just a few of the factors that influence a job shop’s overall performance.
The digital machine shop acknowledges this fact. Manufacturers can now run work instructions for changeovers, machine setup, and maintenance SOPs. When there’s downtime, operators can enter a reason code.
Ultimately, machine shop connectivity is as much about representing human action as much as it is about measuring machine performance. Without accounting for humans around machines, you only have a fraction of the picture.
The Digital Machine Shop Is Integrated
How many different systems of record do you use?
An ERP? An MES? PLCs?
How many don’t directly influence manufacturing processes?
Microsoft office? Scheduling software? Inventory tracking?
With so many systems, silos are a natural consequence.
The digital machine shop integrates these various systems into an interconnected whole. ERP and shop floor solution integrations make work order production and inventory tracking simple. Integrated machine monitoring and materials replenishment applications let you when, and where, materials need to be moved to keep the operation going.
What emerges is a manufacturing ecosystem. Every piece of hardware and software has its niche. They all work in harmony to achieve positive manufacturing results. And just like ecosystems, they’re connected in important and surprising ways.
The Digital Machine Shop is Open
Finally, the digital machine shop is open.
By open, I mean that every constituent piece of software, device, and machine can openly connect with other software and devices and machines.
Solutions aren’t useful if they can’t play nice with others. And as technology becomes more and more important in the coming years, you want to make sure that everything you introduce into your operations will remain open and compatible with whatever the future brings.
Conclusion: A world of Opportunities
In this brief tour, I outlined a bunch of different ways digital technology is transforming machine shop manufacturing.
Hopefully, one (or many!) have resonated with you, and you have some ideas about how to start building your own digital machine shop.
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