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Digital transformation has increasingly become an important topic of discussion for manufacturers over the past several years, largely driven by an expanding competitive landscape and changing consumer demands.
The need for adopting digital solutions was further compounded by the Covid-19 pandemic which forced businesses to reconsider their existing production processes due to supply chain disruptions, workforce safety measures, and many additional factors.
As we continue to navigate how the world of manufacturing will evolve in response to changing business environments, it is important to consider what steps can be taken to ensure businesses continue taking steps toward digital transformation in order to remain competitive and meet the needs of their customers. In this post, we’ll review how manufacturers are approaching digital transformation and implementing Industry 4.0 technologies in order to drive continuous improvement across their operations.
What does digital transformation mean?
ARC Advisory Group defines digital transformation as “the transformation of business, industrial products, operations, value chains and services that are enabled through the augmentation of people, knowledge, and workplaces through the expanded use of digital technologies.”
The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the necessity of digital transformation. According to a survey conducted by McKinsey, only 11% of company leaders believe their current business model will be economically viable by 2023. As a result, manufacturers are recognizing the need to prioritize digital transformation and worker augmentation as a way to sustain and grow their business in the years to come.
This augmentation is largely made possible by the rise of Industry 4.0 technologies. Technological advancements such as Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), the industrial cloud, and edge computers are the drivers of change, but true digital transformation is marked by a rethinking of how technology is integrated into operations to achieve business goals and drive continuous improvement.
How does digital transformation align with manufacturing?
Digital transformation connects manufacturers
Cloud computing is the on-demand delivery of IT resources over the Internet rather than on-premise systems. Cloud technologies centralize data for analyzing in real time to make informed decisions.
Edge computing is a method of improving data aggregation and processing by placing computing resources close to where data is collected. In manufacturing, edge computing streamlines data collection from machines, equipment, sensors, and humans for greater accessibility. Many manufacturers combine the use of edge computing with the cloud in an approach known as fog computing.
Digital transformation augments manufacturers
The Industrial Internet of Things, or IIoT, refers to IoT used in an industrial context. Essentially, IIoT enables manufacturers to connect their machines to the internet. Connected assets and edge devices send information to data communications infrastructures, which turn it into actionable information.
IIoT can integrate operators into their machine environments and collect human data. For example, dynamic work instruction applications can guide operators through workflows, increasing productivity and reducing human-error.
Computer vision describes the use of computers to extract, process, and analyze information from visual inputs. In a manufacturing context, computer vision systems can be trained on a manufacturer’s operations to recognize all of the gestures in a process, guiding an operator through complex work instructions as they accomplish each step with real-time feedback.
Digital transformation enables manufacturers
Additive manufacturing, or 3D printing, can be applied to manufacturing as more than just a rapid prototyping tool. With high configurability, 3D printing can be used to create functional parts, consumer products, tooling and fixtures, and more. With a few clicks teams can adjust part specs, change material types to meet requirements, and switch between parts for specific orders.
Robotics can be utilized in manufacturing environments alongside people for high-volume production and repetitive processes. Automating workflows with robotics can increase throughput with speed and accuracy.
How does digital culture play a role?
Even with the implementation of new technologies on the shop floor, human operators remain at the center of manufacturing as an industry. However, some workers may view digital transformation as a threat to their livelihood. Without the right communication structures in place, it’s possible that workers will reject, refuse to use, or not take full advantage of new tools.
Digital transformation cannot be successful without the adoption of a digital culture that includes and empowers workers. Before implementing a digital initiative, it is important to hold consistent, open conversations between stakeholders and workers to develop a strategy that addresses the specific needs of the organization. The adoption of new technology is most successful when those closest to the manufacturing processes feel comfortable recommending, advocating, and staking their advancement on digital projects and can realize the value of particular solutions as it applies to their everyday challenges.
To learn more about fostering a strong digital culture in your organization, check out our Digital Culture Guide.
Unlocking continuous improvement for years to come
Connecting your manufacturing environment, augmenting your workforce, and enabling automation with industry 4.0 technologies unlocks true continuous improvement across your operations. Increased production visibility uncovers operational issues and inefficiencies at their root cause to be solved quickly and sustainably. Streamlined workflows increase productivity, reduce error, and improve quality. In short, digital transformation enables the agility and innovation necessary to keep up with the rapidly changing complex demands of modern manufacturing.
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