The manufacturing industry has witnessed a significant transformation over the years, moving from manual labor-driven practices to automated and technology-enhanced processes. At the heart of this evolution lies digital manufacturing, a pivotal component of the modern Industry 4.0 revolution.
What is the Industry 4.0 Revolution?
The Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) is the next phase in the ongoing transformation of manufacturing that began more than 250 years ago. Often referred to as Industry 4.0, 4IR takes the mechanisation, assembly lines and computer systems of previous revolutions and adds modern disruptive technologies like internet connectivity, data analytics and advanced automation.
The adoption of these technologies within the industry has accelerated significantly in recent years, and will continue to do so. Studies show three in four* manufacturers increased spending on digital technologies over the past 12 months, and one in two** plan to increase their investments in 2024.
Digital technologies can deliver the efficiencies and productivity growth manufacturers need to survive and thrive. Yet, many remain unaware of the opportunities or face barriers to adoption.
There are four phases of 4IR transformation, according to manufacturing trade body, Make UK:
• Pre-conception (doing nothing) – Companies are unaware of the advantages of investing in and adopting digital technology or face barriers to do so.
• Conception (thinking about doing something) – Companies are assessing what new digital technologies can offer to their business and how to apply them successfully.
• Evolution (transforming) – Companies are capturing and analysing data and implementing changes to their processes based on these insights.
• Revolution (profiting) – Companies are using new digital technologies to change how they add and gain value and how they interact with customers and suppliers.
Encouragingly, one in two (49%) manufacturers are currently in the evolution phase and around one in 10 (8%) are in the revolution stage. In 2018, those figures were 39% and 4%, respectively. The pace of adoption is clearly increasing, just nowhere near fast enough.
“This data shows a divide with most manufacturers trapped in either the early ‘thinking’ stage of digital adoption or the later ‘transforming’ stage. Put simply, not enough have reached the ‘profiting’ stage,” explains Michael Wright, Director of Delivery at output.industries.
“There is a strong link between using technology to fundamentally change how your business operates and increased productivity and profitability. The need to exploit every efficiency gain, cost-saving and competitive advantage has never been starker. Manufacturers need to be proactively moving into the revolution stage, particularly the one in five still in the ‘doing nothing’ stage.”
What are digital technologies in manufacturing?
Digital technologies in manufacturing refer to the integration of advanced digital tools and systems into manufacturing processes. These technologies enhance production efficiency, improve product quality, and enable more flexible and responsive manufacturing practices. Here are some key digital technologies used in manufacturing:
- Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT): This involves connecting manufacturing equipment and devices to the internet. IIoT devices can collect, exchange, and analyse data, enabling manufacturers to optimise production processes, improve equipment maintenance, and enhance safety. For example, sensors on a production line can monitor machine performance and predict maintenance needs.
- Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML): AI and ML are used for various applications in manufacturing, such as predictive maintenance, quality control, and demand forecasting. For instance, AI algorithms can analyse data from production equipment to predict when a machine will fail, allowing for proactive maintenance.
- 3D Printing/Additive Manufacturing: This technology creates physical objects from digital designs by layering materials. 3D printing is used for rapid prototyping, creating complex parts, and even producing end-use products. It allows manufacturers to quickly iterate designs and produce parts that are difficult or impossible to make with traditional manufacturing methods.
- Robotics and Automation: Robotics are increasingly used in manufacturing for tasks that are dangerous, repetitive, or require high precision. Automation technologies can increase production speed, improve product consistency, and reduce human error.
- Digital Twins: A digital twin is a virtual representation of a physical object or system. It is used in manufacturing to simulate, predict, and optimise the performance of machines and processes. Manufacturers can use digital twins to test and validate processes, machinery, and product designs before physical implementation.
- Big Data Analytics: Manufacturing generates vast amounts of data, and big data analytics helps in extracting valuable insights from this data. It can be used for quality control, supply chain optimisation, and identifying production bottlenecks.
- Cloud Computing: Manufacturers use cloud computing for data storage, processing, and analytics. It offers scalability, flexibility, and cost-efficiency, enabling smaller manufacturers to access advanced computing resources without significant upfront investment.
All of these technologies provide different ways that manufacturers can streamline their operations and increase profits.
The benefits of implementing digital technologies into the manufacturing process
Increased Efficiency and Productivity
Digital technologies automate many aspects of the manufacturing process, reducing the time and labor required for various tasks. Robotics and automation, for instance, can handle repetitive or dangerous tasks more quickly and accurately than human workers. This not only speeds up production but also reduces the likelihood of errors and defects, leading to higher quality products.
Enhanced Data Analysis and Decision Making
The use of big data analytics and AI in manufacturing provides deep insights into the production process. By collecting and analysing data from various stages of manufacturing, companies can identify inefficiencies, predict maintenance needs, and optimise production schedules. This data-driven approach enables more informed decision-making, leading to continuous improvement in processes and products.
Improved Flexibility and Customisation
Digital technologies like 3D printing allow manufacturers to produce small batches of customised products cost-effectively. This level of flexibility enables manufacturers to respond quickly to changing market demands and customer preferences, offering customised or limited-edition products without the need for large inventory stocks.
Reduced Operational Costs
Implementing digital technologies can lead to significant cost savings in the long run. Automated systems and smart technologies reduce labor costs and minimise waste through more precise and efficient operation. Predictive maintenance, enabled by AI and IoT, can prevent costly downtime and extend the life of equipment.
Enhanced Supply Chain Management
Digital technologies provide greater visibility and control over the supply chain. Technologies like blockchain and IoT enable real-time tracking of materials and products, ensuring transparency and traceability. By analysing data related to supplier performance, inventory levels, and demand patterns, manufacturers can optimise their procurement processes and inventory management.
Accurate demand forecasting helps reduce stock outs and excess inventory, optimising storage space and minimising holding costs. This improved oversight helps in managing inventory more effectively, reduces delays, and enhances the overall reliability of the supply chain.
Busroot powering manufacturing efficiency and growth
Fortunately, output.industries has a solution that is already helping manufacturers leapfrog from doing relatively little with digital to using it to transform their operation. Busroot is a performance monitoring and analysis platform that connects existing assets to the cloud to create an accurate, real-time overview of factory performance. Through pre-built, user-friendly visualisation and workflows, production managers can minimise downtime, maximise throughput and easily manage incidents on any device.
“Overall equipment effectiveness, OEE, is the accepted standard for measuring productivity and a crucial element of most continuous improvement strategies. All too often, however, OEE is calculated using guesswork, averages and outdated figures,” explains Tom Baker, Technical Director at output.industries. “Fundamentally, what OEE lacks is detail. Most manufacturers have an OEE score of between 60% and 80%. The missing 40% to 20% is exactly that, missing. It gets lost in the ether because an almost universal challenge across industry is being able to assign lost performance to a reason.”
Busroot solves that challenge through its ability to accurately account for every minute of downtime in a factory. At any given time, managers can see whether a machine is producing, and if it isn’t, why not. It could be a no-stock issue, mechanical fault, electrical problem, operator error or scheduling mix-up, but Busroot will know the exact cause.
If you'd like to find out more about how Busroot can transform your manufacturing business, get in touch today and receive a free demo!