While the COVID-19 pandemic is resulting in accelerated digital transformation across industries, the manufacturing industry is facing the most disruptive transformation of its kind. The Industry 4.0 market, estimated at a worth of $72 billion in 2019, is expected to grow to $157 billion by 2024, at a CAGR of 17%. The changing consumer preferences and geopolitical market dynamics are powering the shift from ‘mass production’ to ‘mass personalization’ through connected experiences, automation, and smart manufacturing. To stay relevant in a networked digital ecosystem, traditional manufacturing enterprises see the need to make the switch to digital manufacturing.
Manufacturing enterprises must create agile and smart digital ecosystems to swiftly respond to evolving business complexities. Backed by robust intelligent applications and platforms, these digital ecosystems will be anchored through intelligent integration of cyber-physical systems by using technologies such as intelligent sensors, cobots, AI/ML, AR/VR, 3D printing, and 5G. A closer look reveals the three broad pillars of a successful, smart, and digital manufacturing ecosystem— connected design, connected factory, and connected products and services.
Connected Design: Most manufacturers today implement some form of digital twin technology. The digital twin technology allows them to replicate virtual models of a physical product or simulate a manufacturing process, thus indicating the impact on quality before actual production. But what they struggle with, is the disconnected pieces of design-to-production processes. Their 3D CAD software is not always compatible with that of suppliers and customers. Then, depending on how the designed part is to be manufactured, the data must be transmitted for CNC machining or fabricating, for 3D printing, or to other engineering teams. There is also the problem of incompatibility with inspection tools that compare the actual part to the intended design. The seamlessness of these data transitions is ultimately what makes the difference between a connected and disconnected process and improves productivity, quality, and cost-efficiency. In fact, connected design delivers the customization that the end customer demands. The owner of a ‘connected’ car shares a deep emotional connect with car because they have customized the car to their needs and requirements. This unique connection between the user and product/service is difficult to achieve in the traditional variants.
The concept of a digital manufacturing thread proves crucial in this aspect. It has the potential to unite products, parts libraries, 3D modeling, simulation, testing, and verification, and computer-controlled manufacturing and inspection. A Swedish luxury automobile marque had nearly 260,000 order intakes for trucks in 2018. The demand for unique configurations and customization in such large volumes presents a huge challenge. Moreover, this automobile manufacturer’s engines are sophisticated with almost 4,500 different engine data variants and 13,000 data variants for the full plant. Utilizing an end-to-end digital thread solution and an industrial IoT platform, the automobile manufacturer was able to integrate information across multiple systems (CAD, PLM, and other business systems) to enable real-time data synchronicity. Finally, this single source of truth created by the digital thread was delivered through the lens of augmented reality to QA technicians, who could now view the latest engine configurations in real time. In addition to removing the cost and risk, the solution enabled QA technicians to capture specific defects and send them back upstream. This bidirectional feedback loop has now become the basis of this automobile manufacturer’s business model for future engine design.
Connected Factory: Creating this kind of seamless data loop across the supply chain often starts with connecting factory floor equipment. Now components that provide connectivity such as RFID tags and sensors are quite affordable. Older equipment can also be retrofitted, or IoT-enabled at relatively low-price points. Technologies such as cloud and advanced analytics collect and analyze massive quantities of sensor data. Digital transformation is all about harnessing such capabilities to gain insights that can ultimately make operations faster, more flexible, and efficient.
A connected supply chain offers several differentiators. One is optimized inventory. Through cognitive technology and AI-enabled solutions around warehouse management, demand forecasting, order management, track and trace, etc., reduced inventory for the business saves carrying costs, storage costs, and transportation costs between warehouse facilities. Inventory reduction eliminates obsolete stock. Connected factory operations provide improved visibility across manufacturing operations, thus enabling real-time decision-making. It maximizes asset performance and uptime with the visibility required for central monitoring and management.
In the automotive industry, a global leader in electric vehicles has been able to achieve significant productivity and seamless technological integration between the factory and the car. Autonomous indoor vehicles (AIVs) can navigate through the factory using digital mapping and advanced sensors. One of their factories was even constructed facing true north, so all its equipment can be mapped out accurately using GPS. Through its commitment to digital and connected factories, the company has enhanced customer value and created a legacy most other companies can only aspire to.
Connected Products and Services: Customers who have aligned with smart manufacturing principles early on, expect more. They want to view their assets even when offline. They want to have resource optimization and worker safety through hybrid human-machine workforces. They want to share the risk with their Industry 4.0 vendors through as-a-service and pay-per-outcome models. The second wave of smart manufacturing innovation— smart connected products and platforms— provides all of this and more. Connected products and platforms enable comprehensive monitoring of a product’s condition and external environment to alert users to change in performance. A perfect illustration is a global US-based healthcare solution provider’s digital blood-glucose meter. The meter uses a sensor inserted under the patient’s skin to measure blood glucose levels and connects wirelessly to a device that can alert clinicians 30 minutes before the patient reaches threshold glucose levels.
Connected products can be controlled by algorithms or remote commands that are built into the device or present in the product cloud. The rich flow of monitoring data along with the capacity to control operations allows companies to optimize performance. In wind turbines, for example, a local microcontroller can adjust each blade on every revolution to capture maximum wind energy. Monitoring, control, and optimization capabilities integrate to achieve a previously unattainable level of autonomy. Similarly, mining systems can now operate autonomously far underground overseen by a mine control center on the surface. An electric grid’s efficiency increases as more smart meters are connected, allowing the utility to respond to demand patterns over time.
The digital ecosystem created by connected products and services here plays an important role because it gives the manufacturer or service provider the flexibility to engage across the value chain– be it the end customer, or the supplier of components. For example, a manufacturer of connected/smart ductless air conditioners can establish a direct connection with the end customer and provide digital engineering offerings that enable hyper-customization and hyper-personalization. Similarly, the manufacturer can also directly reach the specific supplier who provides certain components to the compressor manufacturer. The possibilities are endless.
HCL’s Xpand 4.0 is a complete digital engineering offering, based on the three pillars of connected design, connected factory, and connected products and services. It leverages existing customer infrastructure to optimize investments while simultaneously generating new revenue streams through digital engineering, analytics, and data. Built on strong digital engineering DNA, coupled with a consulting-led, technology-driven, and implementation-focused approach, Xpand 4.0 delivers phenomenal connected experiences to global enterprises and their customers.
Enterprises are amidst a digital storm. Data explosion, consumerization, and hyper-localization have solidified the customer’s demand for personalization. To add to this, the COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the need for a borderless enterprise and employee safety. The success of manufacturing enterprises will be determined by their ability to respond to this demand swiftly and expand into new growth areas by leveraging existing business synergies (sustained manufacturing agility) and creating newer, personalized, and connected experiences.
Today, businesses interact with their customers in many diverse ways. Digital customer experiences are becoming more critical to a company’s success than ever before. Digital customer experiences are helping businesses across industries improve their bottom line and strengthen their competitive advantage. Companies need to work toward accommodating this shift, else they risk losing their business to disruptive newcomers.