Digitalization as the New Critical Success Factor

Digitalization gives manufacturers the capability to increase productivity across their entire value chain, with integrated feedback throughout.

Digitalization and its proper implementation are now emerging as critical success factors for industry. This means gathering and analyzing more data in a virtual context so that better decisions and, in many cases, predictive decisions can be made. Digitalization is changing the way products are developed, built and delivered through machine learning, additive manufacturing and advanced robotics. It is also changing the way products evolve through cloud technology, knowledge automation and big-data analytics.

Digital technologies present a billion-dollar opportunity for manufacturers to transform their production and reorient their value proposition to meet the needs of today’s digital consumers. A manufacturer’s competitiveness increases as digitalization improves product-development speed and enables faster response to customer demand.

Time-to-market reduction is as critical today as ever. Innovation cycles are shortened with new product lifecycle management software and services available to both big and small companies. In fact, companies can take their concepts to market in just a fraction of the time it would have taken just 10 years ago.

Simulation is one digitalization tool that drives shorter innovation cycles, even when highly complex products and large volumes of manufacturing data are involved. In a simulation environment, a virtual model of each component in a device or machine is generated, which enables designers and builders to explore what-if scenarios easily and quickly.

These virtual models have come to be known as “digital twins.” They analyze the gathered data and then use it to run simulations and benchmark performance, enabling plant operators to pinpoint where gains can be made. By pairing both virtual and physical worlds (the twins), analysis of data and monitoring of systems can actively avert problems before they occur, which prevents downtime, develops new efficiency opportunities and enables planning for the future. Existing assets can be modeled against their digital twins and new designs can be tested in the virtual world, saving time, money and resources. Testing the interaction on a screen can verify a modification to a car engine, for instance, before new holes need to be drilled. Such scenarios are occurring at every supply-chain step in the automotive, aerospace, medical, off-highway, and appliance industries, among others.

One carmaker offers a prime example of how the benefits of digitalization can accrue. In this case, everything from design to execution planning is implemented digitally. It once required 30 months to manufacture the company’s luxury sports sedan, from start to finish. Thanks to digitalization, production time was reduced to 16 months and the company succeeded in achieving a threefold manufacturing-productivity increase. Another successful application of digitalization can be found at another car plant equipped with more than 1,000 robots, all of which help to weld vehicle bodies with accuracy within a tenth of a millimeter. Robots also control the first fully automated hang-on assembly line, which attaches the doors, hoods and hatches to the vehicles, a process that previously was entirely manual. The plant also has an automated engine marriage process and a new integrated paint process that uses 30 percent less energy and produces 40 percent lower emissions.

Confidence in digital manufacturing is higher than ever among leading companies these days and for good reason. Industry leaders are beginning to realize benefits from their investments in digital technologies and next-generation robotics. A connected digital factory and the big data it generates provide manufacturers with the insight and agility required to compete. Digitalization gives manufacturers the capability to increase productivity across their entire value chain, from design and engineering to production, sales and service, with integrated feedback throughout the process. In practical terms, this means faster time-to-market, greater flexibility and enhanced availability of systems on the plant floor.