Just like manufacturers that failed to switch from manual to automated processes during the Industrial Revolution found themselves obsolete, so it goes with the digital era. Manufacturers that are not digitally transforming, learning how to network their shop floors, and gather data for long-term strategic assessments and planning are going to find themselves falling well behind manufacturers that do so.
The good news is that this is not just a playground for huge multinationals with immense financial resources to throw at the problem. No, you may not be able to construct a factory from the ground up with 5G networks and IIoT devices, and data analytics systems. A digital twin to simulate operations and experiment with tweaks and adjustments may not be in the realm of possibility for a small or medium-sized business.
However, with IIoT devices growing less expensive every year and the rise of no-code data analysis software, making incremental changes without colossal expenditures is possible. Adopting just a small number of additive manufacturing machines can open up new business for a shop. Simple data analytics can enable a manufacturer to make day-to-day operations more efficient and smoothly handle projects that previously would have been nerve-wracking logistical challenges.
“In 2022, I predict the industry will see an influx of investment in automation and digitization. While these tools aren't silver bullets, automation can help ease labor concerns, adapt to unbalanced demand cycles, and empower workers to up-level on more critical tasks,” says Paul Baldassari, EVP US & Component Operations, Strategy and Excellence at Flex.
“Likewise, digitization will help organizations increase visibility into processes, scheduling, and the supply chain to predict problems before they occur and help make better decisions in real-time. The technology has proven its value, and 2022 will be the year of mass adoption across the industry,” continues Baldassari.
Spreading the Tendrils of 5G Networks
“Experts predicted that by 2021 most supply chains would invest in technologies and processes for true resiliency. They also predicted organizations would invest in data governance, digital engineering, and digital operations technologies to move toward autonomous operations; and that manufacturers would reduce onsite personnel using machine vision, AR, and VR to deliver engineering and maintenance support from anywhere,” says Glynn Newby at SAS.
“While some of those predictions came to pass, other issues are still in progress. For example, in 2022 manufacturers will still work through automation and autonomous operations issues, but first, they need to solve the challenge of a secure, connected operation that capitalizes on modern connectivity technologies like 5G,” Newby continues.
“Over the next couple of years, we will see all warehouses digitizing. They will become more connected with 5G and edge computing. Additionally, they’ll automate all manual equipment individually, turning dumb forklifts into autonomous mobile robots,” says Matthew Cherewka, Director of Business Development and Strategy at Vecna Robotics.
“Once this equipment is powered by technology and the warehouse systems are able to run applications more effectively, we’ll see all advanced technologies begin to ‘speak the same language’ with interoperability. This will allow orchestration of all people, equipment, software, etc. to operate at peak performance, leading organizations to work more efficiently and effectively,” continues Cherewka.
IIoT Feeds the Data Stream
“The need for comprehensive data strategies (digital threads) will become a priority for manufacturing companies in 2022 and as such will see increased investment,” says Dave Lewis, partner at technology research and advisory firm ISG. “IoT devices, IIoT automated plants, engineering simulations, and customer experience generate petabytes [one million gigabytes] of data. Leaders are connecting these threads to drive operating efficiency and quality, improve customer brand loyalty and experience, linking information about a product as-designed, as-built through to as-serviced, ultimately feeding continuous product performance data back to engineering to improve the quality and performance of new designs heavily focused on the customer experience.”
“With the increase in IoT applications, especially on the manufacturing floor through Industrial IoT, more real-time data sources are coming into play from disparate systems,” says Sam Mahalingam, Global Strategist at Altair. “For businesses to capitalize on this technology, whether for increased efficiency or predictive maintenance, the data processing needs to take place at two different levels: first, the real-time data insights need to be gathered at the edge and then streamed back into the cloud.”
“Leveraging this ‘distributed cloud’ approach will be the best way for businesses to meet specific requirements for time and performance by creating better flexibility, scalability, and processing capability," Mahalingam continues. "In 2022, look for more businesses involved with IIoT to adopt distributed cloud frameworks that can extend cloud computing capabilities from data centers to the edge,
The development of new or enhanced networks may require investments in new operational technology (OT) like additional cable and wireless cells and additional drains on power grids with the associated costs. Manufacturers also need to always be aware of the cybersecurity implications. “Manufacturers will continue to improve the efficiency of their operations through digitalization—connecting legacy equipment to OT networks that will expose new areas of vulnerability,” says Ryan Moody, president and CEO of ABS Group. “Using connectivity, these systems have been updated over the years to incorporate novel technologies and remote monitoring in order to modernize, optimize, streamline and expand their operations.
“As a result, the attack surface for cybercriminals has continued to expand and has created new vulnerabilities for organizations with operational environments. In 2022, manufacturers must prioritize the identification of these new weaknesses and the implementation of domain-specific cybersecurity programs that explicitly address them,” continues Moody.
Digital Twins Grant Invaluable Insight
With real-time digital threads, supply chains, factory floor setups, and product maintenance data, organizations can create a digital twin of an entire business. This allows full-tilt simulation of everything, tracing the interconnectedness of every step in the chain and allowing manufacturers to experiment with changes and predict whether or not it’s worth adjusting a process.
“In 2022, smart manufacturers will consider the digital representation of the product first, working back to understand what backend interfaces, systems, and tools they need to deliver the test, software, and myriad of other necessary data. From there, they will do the same with the physical product, considering the production line, factory floor, and material setup. Customer requirements will be elevated to new levels and change system thinking forever,” says Baldassari.
“The global pandemic has accelerated the trend toward a more virtualized enterprise on a number of levels. For many industries, simulation-driven design is the most effective alternative to in-person product testing and has been especially impactful in a time when physical distancing remains essential,” says Brett Chouinard, CTO at Altair.
“In 2022, designers and engineers will continue to push the boundaries of what can be done using simulation models, steadily reducing the need for physical testing and saving countless hours, resources, and materials,” Chouinard continues.
“2022 will see the creation and integration of these digital tools into human workflows so that the correct optimized actions are done at the right time,” says Colin Parris, senior vice president and CTO at GE Digital. “This integration of Lean (process transformation) with digital transformation will ensure that new operational processes use the digital enablement being created.”
“2022 will also see data being used in the creation of network digital twins to aid in planning for the new bulk generation (transmission) and distributed energy resources,” Parris continues. “This modeling will indicate what to build and where to build centralized generation resources and plan for their impacts on the grid. Network digital twins will also help utilities to see the effect of rapidly-growing distributed energy resources DER assets on the network and the impact on capacity, reliability, and resiliency, as well as the vulnerabilities of power generation assets to certain volatile weather conditions or cyber situations.”
Additive Manufacturing Subtracts Barriers To Progress
“As we enter 2022, I believe we’ll continue to see additive manufacturing play a critical role in transforming manufacturing workflows and supply chains,” says Dr. Jeffrey Graves, president & CEO at 3D Systems. “Significant delays in logistics are hampering organizations’ ability to deliver products and services in a timely fashion. Being able to manufacture all critical components at the point of assembly, or point of care can streamline these activities.
“The scale at which things can be produced with additive manufacturing will continue to dramatically increase and large-volume printers will become more widely available,” says Allin Groom, principal research engineer, and Gabrielle Patin, technology center manager, from Autodesk. “Larger prints mean additive manufacturing is becoming a cost-effective solution for everything from on-site production of polymer and metal maritime spare parts to concrete and composite homes made from locally sourced, more sustainable materials.”
“As we approach the beginning of a new year, I believe there will be key drivers that will influence the trajectory of additive manufacturing. I expect many companies will not only enhance their core offering but will also broaden their portfolio to offer their customers a more complete suite of technology – and thus a complete solution - under one brand,” says Dr. Brent Stucker, chief scientist, Additive Manufacturing at 3D Systems.
“As additive manufacturing is moving more and more towards production applications, material formulators are increasingly designing materials that are production-quality. Over the coming year, I expect we’ll see new polymer and metal materials designed for more rigorous use-case environments,” Stucker continues. “I believe companies will also begin to introduce new 3D printers designed for specific applications, part sizes, or material offerings. This will result in more cost-effective solutions for production applications rather than the more generic multi-material, multi-application prototyping machines of the past.”
Small Steps Can Reap Huge Rewards
Trying to absorb at once all the possibilities offered by digital transformation may feel overwhelming, especially to manufacturers that have yet to make their first leap. Just remember that this is not an all-or-nothing journey. Taking one step to address a single pain point with a technology-based solution can create the enthusiasm your organization needs as the benefits become clear. The accompanying buy-in opens the doors to all the transformative possibilities.
“Digital transformation requires human transformation, and human transformation requires courage,” says Marcia E. Walker, global manufacturing industry advisor at SAS. “Manufacturers can focus on the challenges: Disrupted supply chains, talent wars, technical complexity. Or they can focus on the outcomes they want: Profitability. Innovation. Resilience. What you focus on is what you get.”