Digital Manufacturing is a powerful concept manufacturing companies need to embrace to be successful, but there seems to be some confusion about the most important facts, particularly technology implementations that have created some myths.
Competitive manufacturing imperative
The competitiveness and future prosperity of manufacturing companies will be determined by their ability to digitally transform. The manufacturing industry is at a tipping point, providing the opportunity to pull ahead of competitors with digital transformation enabled by many factors, including the large influx of new powerful low-cost technologies, cloud & edge computing, and embedded computing. Digital transformation offers a way for manufacturers to overcome labor shortages driven by demographics and be responsive to customer requirements such as make to order demands.
Countries around the world are empowered by these elements to create highly competitive manufacturing and production operations. Transformational change happens infrequently at intervals, leading companies to believe maintaining the status quo is the best strategy. Manufacturers embracing digital manufacturing are achieving substantial savings, profits, efficiencies and competitiveness.
In the August 2022, Microsoft and Intel published the IoT Signals Manufacturing Spotlight Report regarding Smart Manufacturing, with companies reporting 15.3% KPI improvements from 2019 to 2022. This was based on surveying 500 decision-makers working in discrete, hybrid or process manufacturing and conducting in-depth interviews with a subset of them. The report is available here.
1. Digital manufacturing is IT/OT convergence.
Digital manufacturing is a completely integrated manufacturing business that is more efficient, responsive, competitive and profitable. Until now, the production systems in manufacturing have been only loosely coupled, but now technology is enabling integration to achieve a responsive closed loop manufacturing business. Until recent developments, Manufacturing Execution systems (MES) and other add-ons have been implemented out of necessity to gain plant visibility complicating systems including duplicating operating models and data contained in the business system, receiving work orders and inventory releases to run production in real time.
These additional layer of systems and duplicate databases create higher support cost, lower reliability and availability. Enterprise Business systems have progressed to real-time transaction processing to satisfy demands, including customer and supply chain, to be more efficient and responsive. Technology advances are enabling companies to integrate operations, production and manufacturing systems to finally achieve a highly efficient closed loop manufacturing business. Real-time transaction processing IT and OT systems are being effectively integrated using technologies to deliver appropriate performance at each layer of the business systems. Real-time in each layer is defined as the transaction processing and communications time within the application latency requirements to achieve responsive manufacturing at that level.
Digital integrating the entire manufacturing business efficiently communicates work orders and inventory allocations to the plant based on scheduling to meet customer commitments, and using digital twins continuously monitoring Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) to detect any abnormal situations that can be addressed to achieve efficient operations.
2. Digitalization requires one unifying network technology and protocol.
Effective systems use multiple networking methods and information models unified with the Internet Protocol (IP) as the network layer communications protocol. The Internet Protocol (IP) is a set of rules for routing and addressing packets of data so that they can travel across networks and arrive at the correct destination.
Industrial protocols including EtherNet/IP, PROFINET, WirelessHART and ISA 100 take advantage of Internet Protocol (IP). More recently, Single Pair Ethernet (SPE) and Advanced Physical Layer (APL) are using the same technology to communicate information from end devices at the edge including sensors and actuators to manufacturing business systems and cloud applications.
OPC UA (IEC 62541) semantic data models are becoming a popular communications mechanism and are now embedded in a number of industrial automation controllers, drives, sensors and other devices. SAP, Oracle and other enterprise software companies are adopting it. OPC UA incorporates data models and companion specifications. In additions data models from a number of other standards groups are being integrated, including FDI, Standards Leadership Council (SLC), Drilling System Automation Technical Section (DSATS), Energistics / Production Markup Language (PRODML), MCS-DCS Interface Standardization (MDIS), BACnet, MTConnect, ISA-95 Common Object Model ISA95 (ANSI/ISA-95/IEC 62264), PLCopen, and others.
3. IT is taking over manufacturing.
Accomplishing digital manufacturing successfully to achieve the benefits requires functional integration of information technology (IT), operations technology (OT), production and automation groups collaborating to create flexible and synchronized manufacturing. The term “siloed departments” is used a great deal but is imprecise. Collaboratively leveraging deep knowledge and expertise embedded in silos unleashes new thinking, innovation and new results. Each organization needs to find the best way for their teams to achieve the goal of efficient and profitable production. Stakeholder groups including engineering, IT, OT, purchasing, quality, manufacturing operations and automation should work collaboratively to achieve the benefits of digitalization. Major digitalization goals include a shared focus on delivering improved safety, reliability and a better customer and employee experience throughout the digital space. Successful organizations share a passion for creating something new and are eager to be pioneers and try new things, creating stronger reliability, better quality, increased production, greater profitability, improved safety, manufacturing flexibility, informed decision-making and enhanced overall competitiveness as a business.
4. Digital manufacturing eliminates industrial controllers.
Users are driving manufacturing digitalization after years of frustration with the industrial automation industry dramatically lagging in the adoption of open multivendor architectures incorporating technology advances. In contrast, users benefit from technology advances in smartphones, tablets, home automation and other devices. The general computing technology continues to drive for high performance, responsiveness and speed at lower cost creating opportunities for industrial controls and automation. Industrial controllers, out of necessity, have been specially designed for to meet real-time performance requirements of machines, production lines and processes. There is a convergence and development of open architectures based on multivendor architectures leveraging technological advances, and many industrial control and automation suppliers are getting the message and changing to meet customer needs. Specific applications will require unique platforms to achieve required high performance. We are in the midst of change as edge platforms are evolving to meet needs. The pattern may be analogous to cell phones that were only used to make phone calls and have evolved to smart phones providing many other functions.
5. Everything to the cloud.
Some have popularized the idea that industrial control and automation will primarily be done in the cloud, but edge computing is becoming ubiquitous. The history of all computing has been driving toward distributed computing for responsiveness and reliability. Machine Learning and Artificial Intelligence at the edge are growing enabling data to be processed and responded to quickly. There are great applications of hybrid computing with complex models being created and cloud applications and the results deployed in edge devices that run independently at point of use.
Companies experience disruption when they’re faced with competitors’ manufacturing and automation innovations that enhance the competition’s manufacturing productivity, quality and profits. Disruptive innovations create new value, so users can achieve better results and, in many cases, more functionality. Industrial examples include the use of hydraulics to replace mechanical methods (i.e., cable, pulley), PLCs (Programmable Logic Controllers) to replace relays, DCS (Distributed Control Systems) replacing pneumatics and mechatronics to replace gearboxes and mechanical camming with programmable coordinated motion.
The subtle part of disruptive innovation is that many times it is the combination and creative use of current off-the-shelf technology with innovations and creative thinking to build new and better solutions that result in significant improvements, ease-of-use and added functions. Many times established suppliers initially see disruptive innovations as unattractive for a range of reasons and try to ignore them. An example in the industrial automation industry is the initial resistance of traditional suppliers to replacing proprietary human-machine interface (HMI) hardware and software with PCs and Windows-based software. An older example were huge arguments about analog (pneumatic & electronic) versus digital PID control. The world of manufacturing is an exciting ever-changing landscape continually being driven to new heights of productivity, efficiency and quality with the application of new technology.