The time is right to embrace digitalization

By Kevin Lewis, PE

Digitalization is everywhere. Industrial software designed for specific industries, artificial intelligence, and self-learning machines, as well as the rise of connected devices, sensors, actuators, and cyber-physical systems, are all driving companies toward a digital enterprise. For example, aerospace and rail are using additive and digital manufacturing to produce repair parts that do not meet minimum batch production thresholds to reduce inventories and be more responsive to customers.

Digital factory

Digital factory vision, concepts, and implementations are happening with digital technologies that encompass all phases of product life-cycle manufacturing, including product design, process planning, production engineering, production execution, and utilization services. Seamless integration between the various technologies enables all phases of product life-cycle manufacturing, which results in a comprehensive approach and positions companies to be efficient and profitable world-class competitors.

Digital twin

Virtual design, modeling, simulation, validation, commissioning, and ongoing continuous improvement are accomplished with a digital twin. First, design engineers focus on customer requirements using integrated design and analysis tools that capture and manage all information, including computer-aided design, engineering, and manufacturing. Virtual modeling, simulation, validation, and commissioning help ensure working conditions for humans, robots, production lines, and even entire plants will be effective before any physical equipment is installed.

Powerful new integrated design environment software platforms are used to implement the real-world solution. They use a common engineering framework to implement production processes with programmable logic controllers (PLCs), HMIs, motors, and other devices. PLC code can automatically be generated from virtual machine and plant design models.

The large volume of data generated as products are manufactured and put into use can now be analyzed to continually refine and improve operations. This results in greater efficiencies and profits. Cloud-based applications are used to aggregate, analyze, and transform data into actionable information, creating a closed-loop feedback to continuously optimize product development and production planning.

Device and systems interoperability

Realizing the potential of digitalization requires open connectivity, so different assets, devices, and systems can be seamlessly connected regardless of origin or age. There are two ways to achieve this. The first way is specifying the standards and requirements that a manufacturer's ecosystem of system integrators and original equipment manufacturers must comply with for seamless interoperability. The second method requires systems to communicate with each other by connecting data from machines and the operating environment to a common industrial cloud platform. A cloud-hosted infrastructure with open connectivity, APIs, and development tools empowers all users to access, build, and integrate software applications and services to achieve unique industry goals. This is where the breakthroughs come in terms of connecting industrial hardware and automation. A reliable, transparent flow of information across all levels creates tremendous value, provides insights, and enables deeper collaboration, higher efficiency, and new revenue streams.

Value chain

It is now possible to have a digital twin of your entire value chain, so companies can perform simulation, test, and optimization in a completely virtual world. Understanding the interaction of elements along the value chain, including bottlenecks, waste, and nonvalue-adding activities, lets companies resolve these problems and optimize their enterprise in the virtual world before committing any resources in the real world, creating a digital thread.

Digitalization plan and strategy

A strategy and action plan for digitalization that is communicated to and understood by the entire organization yields great benefits. Users are creating digitalization road maps that define the most important key performance indicators, including speed, flexibility, efficiency, quality, and security, in consultation with technology vendors. Effective digitalization road maps include a step-wise implementation approach for the overall journey for a successful digital enterprise strategy. Making a digital twin of your product, your process, and your equipment is not a far-off vision, it is a reality today. Manufacturers can achieve dramatic results when all of these elements, including product design, manufacturing execution systems, automation, and data analytics, are linked.

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About the Author

Executive Corner May-Jun Lewis imgKevin Lewis, PE, vice president, digital factory, factory automation, at Siemens, leads a team committed to implementing digital factory automation initiatives. Lewis has a background as an engineering and operations leader. He has a BSME from the University of Illinois and an MBA from Northwestern. To contact Lewis, email Karen.kasik@siemens.com.

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