Council Post: Digital Manufacturing: A Practical Guide

SVP and CIO at Oshkosh Corporation. Connecting machines and employees with technology and data to enhance safety, quality, and efficiency. 

What Is Digital Manufacturing?

Digital manufacturing, also referred to as Industry 4.0, is an integrated approach to manufacturing, bringing together physical machines, data and human beings to transform the manufacturing process. As a key component of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, digital manufacturing uses sensors, connectivity and advancements in analytics and machine learning, propelling industries forward in a digital age.

This type of manufacturing offers an enticing opportunity for companies. By harnessing digital technology and applying it to existing manufacturing processes, companies can advance productivity in competitive markets while reducing costs. Through the capabilities of digital manufacturing, the potential to improve safety, be proactive in quality and increase operational efficiency has reached new heights.

Improving Safety

A workplace equipped with digital manufacturing solutions to improve safety conditions ultimately boosts productivity. Prioritizing the safety of employees and utilizing technology to enhance their experience is a cost-effective solution with endless benefits.

• Smartphone utilization: A smartphone can become a safety tool in the workplace. For instance, companies may consider developing mobile applications to collect safety incident reports quickly and accurately, including near-miss data. Software solutions collect data and help simplify the process, leading to more reporting. Additionally, this data can help highlight areas of opportunity to improve safety in the future.

• Wearable devices: Wearable technology can also aid in workers’ safety on the manufacturing floor. For example, the Kinetic Reflex is a wearable device used to analyze posture and alert the user when they are performing high-risk movements. This safety component reduces lost workdays from injury. Other tools, such as smart wristbands and helmet clips, take similar steps to prevent injuries while keeping workers engaged in their safety.

Proactive Quality

The technology offered with digital manufacturing allows companies to take a proactive approach to the quality of their product.

• Augmented vision: Human vision has the potential for errors and can be replaced with advanced image recognition from computers. Leveraging cameras and visual analytics to proactively detect defects on the manufacturing floor prevents costly rework. Defects are identified when and where they occur. This lowers the likelihood that a defective product will be passed along, reducing waste and improving customer satisfaction.

• Smart tools: Considering that some manufacturing items, such as trucks and planes, have thousands of points where one tool is applied, manually managing this data takes time and money. Smart tools and their dashboards streamline and automate the process of data collection. Control charts highlight possible defects such as fixture problems, operator error and tool performance.

Increasing Operational Efficiency

Digital manufacturing has the potential to increase the operational efficiency of companies by trading manual processes for automated solutions. Streamlining the process flow of manufacturing leads to increased output while reducing costs.

• Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) machines: Connecting machines and devices to create IIoT machines allows dashboards to be developed to monitor real-time manufacturing processes. This type of data capture leads to understanding the state of equipment, predictive maintenance and process automation, ultimately improving the efficiency of a manufacturing floor.

• Automated guided vehicles (AGVs): Integrating AGVs into the manufacturing process can reduce error and waste while increasing productivity and output. An AGV can operate 24/7, efficiently transporting inventory without human involvement. As a result, employees can redirect their attention to higher-skilled work areas.

• Augmented training: Addressing the needs of the changing workforce is an essential element of all industries. Adopting augmented training techniques can help improve employee onboarding and training experiences. Training opportunities may include augmented reality, assisted reality and virtual reality to provide workers with hands-on experiences and real-world scenarios.

Capitalizing On Digital Manufacturing

The future of manufacturing is digital manufacturing; capitalizing on the technology to make this future possible is vital for companies. To meet the demand of consumers, companies must adopt digital manufacturing techniques and strategies.

The best way to start is to do multiple “prove it” projects that can positively impact critical safety, efficiency and quality parameters. Collaboration with technicians on the manufacturing floor will help in identifying the right project and is likely to increase adoption.

After a series of successful projects, scale technology deployment to a manufacturing line and plant level with the goal of designing future factories embedded with these proven technologies. Develop a strategic road map to lay out milestones and effectively overcome roadblocks.

Investments in digital manufacturing today can lead to success down the road and propel companies into a new future of profitability.


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