Transforming Manufacturing: 7 ‘Domains of Change’ driven by disruptive technology

The manufacturing sector is undergoing a significant transformation, propelled by the integration of disruptive technologies collectively known as ‘Industry 4.0. Transforma Insights has identified seven key ways in which technologies such as Artificial Intelligence and the Internet of Things are reshaping the industry. This article delves into each transformation, exploring their real-world implications.

Intralogistics Optimisation

Intralogistics optimisation has multiple dimensions, including inventory and warehouse management, transportation optimisation, workflow optimisation, asset tracking, and autonomous vehicles. Collectively they streamline the processes of delivering physical items, from raw materials through to finished products, through the production process.

The potential savings are substantial. As an example of a comprehensive approach, Boeing, in collaboration with BAE Systems, has deployed an ERP and asset management IoT platform across its 50 manufacturing sites and has been estimated to save around USD100 million in its first year of installation. The platform connects people, processes and data on factory floors, supply chains, and across industrial enterprise operations, further reducing the assembly time, automating asset receipt and payment, enhancing inventory management and improving overall quality and safety.

X-as-a-Service (Servitisation)

X-as-a-Service, or Servitisation, marks a shift from the traditional approach of selling industrial or other equipment for a one-off upfront fee, to supplying them as-a-service for an ongoing recurring revenue, either as a fixed fee or based on usage. This approach frees buyers from the capital cost of owning and maintaining hardware. It also allows sellers to switch from a traditional transactional relationship to a long-term ongoing relationship with recurring revenue streams. The benefits include better insights into customer usage, expansion of up-sell opportunities, and better enablement of field servicing and compliance with maintenance schedules.

Kärcher provides a particularly good example of the swapping of servitised assets provided to individual end-users. A typical arrangement that Kärcher might have with a retail mall is to provide floor-cleaning equipment as a service on a multi-year contract. Clearly, individual cleaning machines can be swapped in and out of the estate of devices provided in a completely seamless way and end-users would have no reservations if Kärcher provides equipment that has been previously used by another client.

Worker Assistance

Collaborative robots, or cobots, provide assistance to workers in manufacturing plants to increase productivity and tackle issues of labour shortages. They are particularly used in the automotive sector. For instance, Ford assembly plants started using wearables like exoskeletons (Ekso Bionics’ EksoVest suit) for its assembly plants in Michigan. The exoskeleton reduces repetitive motion and provides lift assistance without batteries or robotics. As a result of their use, the firm has realised an 83% decrease in work injuries.

Besides robots and cobots, Augmented Reality/Virtual Reality (AR/VR) devices such as smart glasses are used to provide information to wearers in a convenient and intuitive way. Such information could range from detailed specifications for building aero-engines or constructing wiring looms during aeroplane manufacture, through to information about customisation of vehicles. For instance, Boeing launched a program that uses a connected wearable solution for its factory technicians: smart glasses made by Glass Enterprise Edition and Upskill’s enterprise augmented reality (AR) software, integrated with the SAP Field Service Management platform. It estimates that it reduced wiring production time by 25% and reduced error rates effectively to zero with the deployment.

Quality Control and Assurance (QC and QA):

The historical reliance on trained quality assurance specialists is evolving with the rise of IoT and Industry 4.0. Automated QC and QA solutions, emphasizing real-time monitoring, process automation, and data analytics, enhance business efficiency. For instance, GKN Aerospace a manufacturer of aeroplane components for aircraft manufacturers, including wing structures, empennages, and fuselages deployed a Fujitsu AI platform to help recognise and characterise discrete and non-discrete defects directly from raw ultrasound data. The AI platform increased production throughput times by up to 50%.

Additive Manufacturing:

Additive Manufacturing, often used interchangeably with ‘3D printing’, is a process whereby a three-dimensional object can be produced by adding layer-on-layer of material and fusing them together. Automotive giants Lamborghini, Bugatti, Porsche, and Audi leverage 3D printing for prototyping, tooling, and spare-part production. It is particular relevant for the aerospace and defence industries, For example, more than 70,000 3D-printed production parts have been launched through Boeing commercial and defence programs. In one case, it used 3D printing to create structural titanium parts and saved approximately USD2-3 million in titanium cost per plane.

Brownfield Machine Monitoring

Brownfield Machine Monitoring involves monitoring existing (legacy) equipment, enhancing efficiency by implementing new sensors on old machines. The obvious benefit here is to integrate older equipment into an Industry 4.0 system without the need to replace it. One example is the AWS Monitron product, an end-to-end system for retrofit industrial equipment monitoring. The proposition consists of three elements: sensors, gateway and mobile app. The vibration and temperature sensors are glued to the piece of equipment and report data automatically via the gateway. The technician is alerted via push notifications. The ML builds a model of normal behaviour and reports anomalies and changing behaviour. The sensors have an expected 3-year battery life.

Environment Monitoring

According to the International Labour Organization, work-related illnesses and diseases result in USD3 trillion of global economic losses each year. Environment Monitoring ensures pollutant-free and safe manufacturing premises, addressing indoor air quality, stack emissions, and noise levels. For instance, Masan Group deployed a deodorant system from Oizom, an environmental IoT company, at its Vietnam food processing facility. The real-time air quality and odour monitoring features of ‘Odosense Pros’, the deodorant system has helped ensure an optimum working environment for the workers in the facility.

Conclusion: demonstrable benefits from disruptive technologies

The seven domains of change in the manufacturing sector presented above illustrate the ways in which IoT, AI and other disruptive technologies are being used to great effect. As Industry 4.0 continues to unfold, businesses embracing these innovations are poised for increased efficiency, cost savings, and a competitive edge in the ever-evolving landscape of modern manufacturing.

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