Manufacturing

The digital factory: hype or necessity?

Smart Industry, Industry 4.0, Digital Manufacturing. Much has been written and discussed recently about “the digital factory”. A factory where everything is fully automated and paperless. How realistic is that digital factory and to what extent is it necessary for manufacturers to (rapidly) achieve this? We will discuss these two questions further here.

1. How realistic is the digital factory?

To answer this question we must first determine what a digital factory actually is. This is not that easy. The appearance of a digital factory, you see, largely depends on the sector in which you are active. For example, the food industry makes completely different demands on the management and control of the process than the equipment manufacturing industry.

As a rule it can be said that paper no longer exists in a digital factory. Data is automatically exchanged between various systems and equipment, where actions are automated as much as possible. Important developments such as robotics, digitisation and the Internet of Things play a major role in this. It is clear that these developments ensure that the automation of manufacturing is increasingly becoming cheaper and more far-reaching.

The necessary steps must certainly still be taken in the field of flexible robotics. On the other hand, anyone who has ever seen the baxter in action, knows that robotics is also on the horizon for SMEs. Due to various new technologies, far-reaching digitisation is now increasingly within reach. The integration of systems (consider, for example, quality systems, ERP systems and CAD/CAM systems) and the data exchange between systems and equipment (consider for example, integration between ERP and machines, and weighbridges) is now easier than ever. Moreover, it is already applied on a large scale!

2. To what extent is the digital factory necessary for your company?

The answer is, on the one hand, undoubtedly largely dependent on the sector in which you are active and your current competitive position. On the other hand, as a result of various technological developments, the world is becoming (relatively) increasingly smaller. Competition, therefore, comes from more and more corners of the world and it is crucial to defend your organisation against this, by manufacturing cheaper, with higher quality and/or increasingly more based on customer specifications. As a company you have to react to this quickly, otherwise your competitors will. After all, the technology is easily available (read: relatively cheap) these days.

The application of new technologies is crucial. Digitisation and automation offer many benefits for your company:

  • Shorter lead times

    Due to the fact that company data is easily available to employees and machines, you also require less (large) mass production. Switching becomes increasingly easier and faster, causing single piece production to come within reach. And hence you can also respond to very specific customer demands faster. Specific examples of reductions in lead times by 50% and more are no exception. This is a great result when you realise that a lead time reduction of 50% results in a cost price reduction of an average of 15%!

  • Increased delivery reliability

    By, for instance, connecting your stock data, requirements and/or schedules to the systems of your suppliers and customers, you will have a lesser risk of running out of items. In addition, shorter lead times ensure increased delivery reliability.

  • Increased efficiency

    Employees are no longer unnecessarily looking for information which is dispersed throughout the factory or in the office. Everything is immediately available digitally at their work place. You can also easily automate many actions, such as retyping data between multiple systems. This limits unproductive hours to a minimum.

  • Increased quality

    When stepping up the level of digitisation in your company, the amount of errors made is reduced. Instructions are immediately available and information comes from one single central database that everybody has access to. In addition, measuring quality becomes increasingly simple, so that your organisation is better equipped to improve the quality in a sustainable way.

  • Greater customer satisfaction

    With the help of the digital factory you increasingly manufacture to the wishes of the customer. Determining delivery times also becomes more accurate. In addition, you can easily integrate your systems with those of your customers. For example, you can automatically inform your customers that products have been reported ready for them at the factory and will be transported immediately. Automatic exchange of serial and/or batch data, quality data and environmental variables is certainly also possible with this.

  • Greater employee satisfaction

    Young people grow up with the latest technologies. They are accustomed to it and also consider it to be a prerequisite to carry out their work (well). If you still have an “old school’ approach to work, then you are automatically less attractive to young talent. Good, well trained and satisfied employees really make the difference, for your organisation too!

Only you can answer the question of whether a transition to a digital factory is necessary for your company. Perhaps the above points will assist you in this further consideration. But be aware: your competitors will certainly not stand still!

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