Digital Manufacturing

What is Digital Manufacturing?

Digital manufacturing is an approach that uses integrated computer technologies to improve and elevate manufacturing operations and supply chains through enhanced efficiency, flexibility, design, and integration.

The key to understanding digital manufacturing is connectivity. Through the use of Industry 4.0 & 5.0 technology, digital manufacturing connects systems, tools, processes, and workers together to create an integrated approach to manufacturing.

The approach ultimately seeks to implement optimizations that calculate the operation and all its players as a whole, leading to greater output, increased quality, and lower costs. Manufacturers can use various technologies to weave a strong digital thread through their operations and give them centralized information and actionable insights.

Key Takeaways

  • Digital Manufacturing is defined as the use of integrated computer technologies to improve manufacturing operations.

  • This approach to manufacturing seeks to connect disparate manufacturing elements into one cohesive unified team.

  • Tools, systems, machines, and people are optimized cooperatively.

  • The goals of digital manufacturing are efficiency, flexibility, design, and integration.

The 5 Key Benefits of Digital Manufacturing

The key benefit of digital manufacturing is loads of actionable data. With more data, you gain more knowledge. With more knowledge, you gain insight and power.

But the benefits go a fair bit deeper than simply better insight.

To delve a bit more deeply into the benefits of the digital manufacturing approach, we’ve broken down the increased flow of data and knowledge into 5 key benefits.

  1. Increased Efficiency: First and foremost, digital manufacturing enables businesses to increase the intelligence of their operations and supply chains. With multiple sensors relaying data to people and systems, businesses can optimize their productions cooperatively like never before.
  2. Faster Innovation: With readily available data, innovation becomes a way of life. Tools like big data, analytics, and IoT sensors enable engineers to easily identify design flaws and innovate their processes and products faster.
  3. Amplified Customer Satisfaction: As efficiency increases within the production line and the supply chain, quality and accessibility on the market follow closely behind, boosting customer satisfaction and repeat sales.
  4. Cost reduction: Digital manufacturing enables businesses to expose and mitigate waste that would have been otherwise unidentifiable without digital manufacturing tools, thereby reallocating resources and saving money.
  5. Continuous Improvement: Integrated devices, tools, and software work cooperatively to continually implement improvement. In some cases, this improvement can occur without direct human intervention, allowing improvement efforts to be continuous as well as automated.

8 Examples of Digital Manufacturing Technologies

Since digital manufacturing is an expansive topic, there are a wide variety of tools and technologies available to manufacturers.

1. Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT)

standardized manufacturing

IIoT describes a network of interconnected devices, sensors, tools, and instruments that are used within an industrial environment such as manufacturing. IIoT technologies communicate with each other and people through their mutual connection to the internet, enabling businesses to gather, share, and analyze advanced and expansive data sets.

IIoT technologies allow businesses to monitor performance and gain accurate insight that would have otherwise been unachievable. In some cases, IIOT devices help businesses predict issues within a machine, production line, or industrial environment, leading to increases in output, efficiency, and traceability.

2. Cloud Computing

Cloud Computing allows businesses to access, transfer, store, and manipulate data from anywhere at any time using a centralized server. Processing power and storage are handled by the server, meaning that your systems and hardware can offload processing power and storage to run more efficiently. This means that multiple users can access the cloud-based software or data simultaneously in real time, making cloud computing the cornerstone of digital manufacturing technologies.

Cloud computing is mobile, fast, cost-effective, secure, and offers wide data storage capabilities. Once a technology is connected to the cloud, it can immediately begin transferring data and/or deciphering it.

3. Big Data & Analytics

While IIoT devices gather data quickly and effectively, the data is too huge for any person to decipher, sort, or analyze. Big Data and Analytics tools use machine learning and AI to transform huge data sets into actionable insights. These insights can then be used by companies to introduce continuous improvement, eliminate waste, and even forecast maintenance and demand.

Above all, big data is a powerful digital manufacturing tool that provides transparency into all production actions and all areas of the industrial environment.

4. Advanced Robotics

While robots have been around since the 1950s, they continue to be a major element of the digital manufacturing movement. Robots perform repetitive tasks with extreme precision and efficiency, allowing businesses to automate certain tasks and protect humans from otherwise unsafe conditions.

Within digital manufacturing, robots receive a huge boost in sophistication and capabilities. This includes modern robots' capability to analyze and optimize their performance based on the data they collect. Similarly, robots and machines that occupy the same space can analyze their trajectories corporately and determine an optimal path, ensuring that robots do not collide with each other such as robots within a warehouse or fulfillment center.

5. Digital Twins

Digital twin technology enables manufacturers to build digital representations of real world devices, processes, or environments. Using IIoT sensors, companies create digital renderings of key components and machines to gain advanced insight into their design, function, and maintenance. This level of insight is independent of the location of the observer and the status of the real-world element.

Alongside creating virtual copies of assets, digital twin technology enables companies to run accurate simulations within the digital twin and then apply tested success in the real world.

6. Digital Thread

Digital Thread technology allows manufacturers to create strong digital communications and centralize their information technology. Within a digital thread, all associated cyber-physical elements source data from each other, enabling every system and tool to use the same source of information and work together as one cohesive unit.

Manufacturers can use this technology to connect their factories with incredible accuracy and speed. Within a digital thread, as soon as a person or machine performs an action, all associated technologies are aware that the action took place and act accordingly.

7. Digital Work Instructions

Digital work instructions are a digital manufacturing tool that connects the person in the real world to the virtual world of manufacturing.

Similar to a digital twin, digital work instructions are a digital representation of a specific process. Work instructions are built using pictures, videos, and annotations to standardize the best practices of the organization. Workers follow the process in real time, achieving high levels of consistency and efficiency with every work order.

digital work instructions

However, digital work instructions also incorporate other digital manufacturing technologies.

  • IIoT devices and sensors can connect and communicate with digital work instructions to provide users with accurate and current details on their environment.
  • Work instructions provide users with advanced levels of traceability and analytics, enabling businesses to capture** huge amounts of data** from their shop floor and generate actionable insights.
  • Whether through SaaS (Software as a Service) or an On-Premise server, digital work instructions are hosted online and in the cloud, meaning that they are easy to access, distribute, and update from any location and at any time.
  • Digital Work instructions also communicate with external databases, software, tools, and advanced robots, enabling users to connect and centralize their entire operation and create a strong digital thread.
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