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Implementing Digital Manufacturing in Your Facility

By: Helen Carey for

As digital manufacturing becomes increasingly popular and more companies begin exploring their options for streamlined, expedited operations, it’s become clear that there are many misconceptions surrounding this method of production.
So what is digital manufacturing, exactly, and how can it benefit your operations?

What Is Digital Manufacturing?

Digital manufacturing centers on the collection, analysis, and subsequent application of data. Many people believe digital manufacturing is synonymous with 3D printing, but this isn’t the case. Digital manufacturing involves connecting different systems, machines, and processes, allowing for more accurate planning and testing and a more efficient, streamlined production line.
Through the collection of relevant data, stakeholders have quick, easy access to important information, which means improvements and adjustments can be made more quickly. A centralized computer system holds this information, allowing manufacturers to identify trends, pinpoint areas for improvement, and prepare for future needs. The secure IT network also allows for reduced downtime and mass customization.

Often playing a major role here is the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), a subcategory of the IoT, which refers to a network of devices, equipment, and computers that collects and shares data. This interconnectivity allows for enhanced efficiency, better scalability, cost savings, and better accuracy in planning and scheduling. Digital manufacturing processes don’t rely on the IoT, but they can greatly benefit from it.

In conjunction with high-powered software, the internet in general, and new sophisticated systems, the IIoT is proving to be a solid backbone for digital manufacturing techniques.

How to Incorporate Digital Manufacturing Into Your Facility

1. Explain to your team the value in digital manufacturing.

Many manufacturing and machining facilities are used to the way things are done and tend to resist change. This can make the prospect of implementing a new system daunting and overwhelming. Some workers may even be nervous that these new technologies with supplant their jobs.

But there’s a lot to be gained from digital manufacturing — in terms of both time and cost. So make sure everyone on your team understands the benefits to be gained from these advancements and how it will help workers in their daily duties.

2. Take time to learn the basics before taking action.

Before doing anything, take the time to learn about the new technologies you’re considering implementing and how they would change things in your facility. Sometimes expectations don’t match up to reality, so it’s important to learn how digital manufacturing techniques would work for your exact systems, equipment, and processes, and how these techniques may impact staff.

Don’t waste too much time building analytical models, as the major players at your company may lose patience with the process and opt out. But taking some time to map out a game plan and analyze how new strategies would affect current processes is smart for any kind of facility change, and this will give you solid talking points if presenting new ideas to management.

3. Start small and test out new strategies before making big changes.

You don’t need to implement a multimillion-dollar digital setup to reap the benefits of digital strategies. Start by pinpointing a few areas that could benefit from a more sophisticated system and try out some new digital techniques.

This will allow you to test out new software and technologies and get an idea of what a larger-scale setup may look like. You can then identify any difficulties and see what works best, allowing you to plan ahead for any future changes and digital upgrades. Consider doing a proof of concept to illustrate the benefits of any newly implemented systems.

4. Consider cybersecurity and take the time to study up on necessary preventative measures.

Any discussion of digital manufacturing should involve a conversation focused on cybersecurity. New digital processes will inevitably bring up new security risks, so it’s crucial to fully consider the implications before taking action. Be sure to stay up to date on new advancements in cybersecurity, and take the time to research key concerns and talk with experts who can guide you in the right direction.

Networks must be isolated to reduce the risk of attacks. Otherwise, if a single system that is integrated with other pieces of equipment and machinery is compromised, all of the other connected items are at risk as well.

The Future of Manufacturing

As the manufacturing sector continues to shift and evolve, the many unique benefits of digital manufacturing are coming to the forefront. Allowing for cost savings, increased uptime, higher efficiency, quicker maintenance, and better planning, the digital sphere is changing the way virtually every industry does business.

Before embarking on a full-scale implementation of digital manufacturing, consider the tips listed above and make sure you fully grasp the concept as a whole — challenges and risks included. This will set you on good path to start optimizing and updating your systems and facility without disruption or pushback.

About the Author:

Helen Carey: As senior copy editor for Thomas’ Insights, Helen Carey reviews all articles, white papers, eBooks, and other content prior to publication. She also develops original content for Insights and other publications.