Manufacturing is entering a period of major change. Here, we will consider the impact of digital transformation (DX) on the manufacturing industry, specific examples of DX, and problems in DX’s current situation.
What is digital transformation?
Digital transformation generally means that the penetration of ICT will change people’s lives in every way. The business term can be considered in the sense that “digital technology fundamentally transforms the business model so far”. In other words, it can be said that it is a series of reforms aimed at improving productivity by drastically changing the business with digital technology, and improving business efficiency and business.
In a broad sense, simple automation using IT equipment is also considered to be included, but in the manufacturing industry, where automation has already progressed considerably, it will be thought that the manufacturing itself will be fundamentally changed. This involves the construction of production lines that can change according to the situation, and the overall business processes in the manufacturing industry, such as not only production but also the efficiency of design, development, and maintenance.
Specific examples of digital transformation in the manufacturing industry
Let’s take a look at some specific examples of DX in manufacturing and their benefits. This section describes PLM and digital twins as specific examples.
PLM(Product Lifecycle Management）
The idea is to consistently integrate and manage everything from design and product development to production and maintenance. Or it’s a system that makes it happen. Whereas a mere production management system only manages production, PLM is different from managing design, product development, customer management, and so on.
One of the benefits of deploying a variety of PLM is the ability to share information (drawings, complaint information, etc.) among departments. In other words, information on the design and development departments is also brought to the production department, and conversely, information can be viewed by the design and development departments. For example, if the drawings are shared across all departments, it becomes easier to reflect opinions from the production department in the design. Conversely, if the schedule of the production department is shared, it is possible to draw according to the production schedule.
You can also share customer complaint information to quickly analyze where the defects are caused in the product lifecycle.
Alternatively, by sharing the delivery date of parts, it will be easier to produce parts with long delivery times first and parts with short delivery times later. As we evolve this, concurrent engineering will be easier to achieve. This allows for shorter delivery times and optimized costs.
In addition, for products with a large number of special parts and a large difference in the length of delivery due to parts, there is a possibility of using artificial intelligence for delivery date management. Delivery date management and process management are often “combination optimization problems”, and are our specialty of ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE. Therefore, there is a possibility that artificial intelligence will be incorporated into PLM systems from now on.
Twins are twins. In other words, the actual production line is virtually reproduced inside the computer and the actual production line is simulated. The real-world “production line” and the virtual world “production line” is called in this way to look like twins.
A similar concept is a “virtualization factory.” Unlike digital twins, virtualization plants have a strong meaning of simulating production lines before the plant is launched, while digital twins reflect what is actually happening on the production line in the “production line” of the virtual world. In other words, the digital twin is not only before the launch of the production line but also after the launch. This is achieved by sensing in near real-time in edge computing. In other words, the virtual world in the digital twin reflects the yields and times that are occurring “now” in real-world production lines.
In this way, as an example, the “production line” in the virtual world can verify the real impact of a product that has been redesigned to the production line without affecting the production line in the real world.
Production line yields are designed assuming that the production line is designed, but when the production line is actually completed and the product begins to flow, these values are often different from what was assumed. Therefore, the value of the production line is very important when the product is actually flowing. In the sense of knowing the “now” of the production line, it can be said that the digital twin has a very big advantage.
Current Issues of Digital Transformation in Manufacturing
It is now essential to improve productivity by introducing DX in this way, but in reality, it is not widespread as expected. Let’s consider why.
Differences in sense between IT engineers and manufacturing engineers
Of course, it is not possible to say in general, but IT engineers are often required by managers for visible results and tend to aim for dramatic changes. On the other hand, there are many manufacturing engineers who are progressively aiming for change. For this reason, it is often divided between IT engineers, manufacturing engineers on the management side, manufacturing engineers on the site side, and companies. It may be said that it is a sales (manager) temperament and a craftsman temperament. In other words, many managers want to renew their information systems, but there is a problem that there is a great backlash in the field where they do not want to change the flow of work so far rapidly, and it is difficult to change old systems (legacy systems).
There are many small and medium-sized enterprises in the manufacturing industry
Currently, only relatively large factories with large supply chains can implement state-of-the-art systems for DX. On the other hand, the Japanese manufacturing industry is largely supported by subcontractors. Such subcontractors are often reluctant to implement new systems that can lead to temporary cost increases. Therefore, it will be necessary to devise to spread of DX to such companies.
DX’s spread requires ingenuity and time
Now we’ve outlined digital transformation. If DX in the manufacturing industry is realized, dramatic efficiency can be achieved as seen in this article. For this purpose, it is essential to replace and introduce IT systems, but since there are many small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) who are subcontracted in the Japanese manufacturing industry, it is essential to devise ways to spread DX to these companies. In addition, DX aims for fundamental change, and it cannot be realized overnight. For this reason, it should be remembered that it is necessary to work carefully as a long-term strategy.