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Digital transformation in the manufacturing industry is driven by IoT

FEB 08, 2023 | Nikita Singh
region: ALL Manufacturing technology: ALL

Transforma Insights recently published a report ‘Digital Transformation in the Manufacturing Sector’, providing our view of the key areas of change within the manufacturing sector that are enabled by emerging digitally transformative technologies. This blog post examines some of the key themes.

7 key domains of change for manufacturing

The Manufacturing sector is among the most progressive sectors in terms of adoption of digital transformation (DX) solutions. There are seven key domains in which new technologies such as Internet of Things, Artificial Intelligence and Robotic Process Automation are being used to enact digital transformation within the manufacturing industry, unlocking operational efficiencies through automation, transparency and safety. These are:

  • Intralogistics Optimisation: Active RFID tags, autonomous vehicles, autonomous mobile robots, automatic guided cart, robots and cobots to support asset tracking and monitoring in a complex manufacturing environment.
  • X-as-a Service: Manufactured goods and associated services that can be used on a contract basis rather than owning a particular asset.
  • Worker assistance: Cobots, exoskeletons, AR and VR devices such as smart glasses used by factory engineers to improve ergonomics, track employees and detect issues.
  • Quality Control and Assurance: Image recognition, deep-learning based visual inspection to identify cosmetic flaws, automation of production process, use of photometers and thermographic cameras to ensure quality control.
  • Additive Manufacturing: Alternatively known as 3D printing, it is used for fabricating new parts, aftermarket devices, jigs and fixtures. It reduces cost and weight of the final product with relatively lighter material in use.
  • Brownfield Machine Monitoring: Digital transformation of legacy assets by retrofitting new sensors and remote monitors to reduce manual workload, scrap and onboarding time of new hires.
  • Environmental Monitoring: Indoor air quality monitoring, stack monitoring (stack emissions from boilers, chimneys and generators) and noise level monitoring to enhance worker safety, quality improvements, efficient equipment maintenance, regulatory compliance and better energy management.

7 Domains of Change in Manufacturing.jpg

Most industrial use cases are focused on driving process efficiency

The analysis contained in the report draws heavily on Transforma Insights’ Best Practice & Vendor Selection Database, which includes hundreds of case studies that collectively illustrate how new emerging technologies can impact enterprises in all sectors. At the time of writing the database included 826 case studies in total, 300 of which are in the Manufacturing sector.

When assessing the various case studies, we consider three ways in which they might have an impact: Process Efficiency (i.e. internal factors related to making operations more effective), Value Proposition (i.e. changes to the product that the company takes to market), and Industry Disruption (i.e. does this type of use case have the potential to be a game-changer for the sector) potential.

Until now, the emphasis of DX deployments in the manufacturing sector has been on Process Efficiency. The impact on Value Proposition and Industry Disruption has been moderate, although in the latter case there is a secondary effect of increased process efficiency driving wider industry changes, as noted in the graphic below.

Impact of Manufacturing DX.jpg

The impact of specific DX projects in the manufacturing industry can be significant. For instance, Cobots are still in the early stages of adoption, but the productivity advantage is significant. Harley Davidson’s facility in York, Pennsylvania, uses robots to weld parts together. These robots churn out 20% more fenders per shift than two employees working in the same facility. Airbus has reported a 500% improvement in productivity yearly by using wearables (such as smart glasses) on its factory floor. A Ford assembly plant in Michigan has started using wearables like exoskeletons (Ekso Bionics’ EksoVest suit) and realised an 83% decline in worker injuries.

Mobile private networks are on the rise

One of the most significant technology adoption trends in the last two years has been the growing interest in the use of mobile private networks (MPNs) and nowhere is there more interest than in the manufacturing sector. According to Transforma Insights’ report ‘Mobile private network (MPN) state of the union’ (October, 2022), manufacturing is the number one sector for deployments. Examples of digital transformation initiatives that use private 4G and 5G networks, as presented in the Digital Transformation in the Manufacturing Sector report include Ocado’s Smart Platform for warehouse automation, Nokia’s private 5G network for its own manufacturing plant in Oulu, and Ice Mobility’s use of Verizon’s 5G Edge network for consumer vision-assisted product inspection.

About the report

Digital Transformation in the Manufacturing Sector’ is intended to provide an outsider’s view of some of the key areas of change within the manufacturing sector that are enabled by emerging digitally transformative technologies. From a practitioner’s perspective, the document highlights new and emerging aspects of change that can be expected to impact the industry in the next few years. From the perspective of potential vendors to the manufacturing industry, it highlights key emerging areas of opportunity to sell new products, services, and solutions to the manufacturing industry. The report is available to subscribers to the Transforma Insights Advisory Service.

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