Darren Hardman, president of Avanade Europe, explores a trio of still-developing technologies with the most potential to help manufacturing operations achieve greater operational efficiency, and then considers how to boost their individual power even more by integrating them into a truly intelligent enterprise.
Over the past decade, manufacturing has adopted technologies that individually still sound like science fiction. Yet deployment can still be hit or miss.
However, customised and deployed together in a skillful and integrated way, these same technologies can turn manufacturing plants into intelligent enterprises, with production and distribution processes that are faster, more accurate and less expensive – the perfect antidote to today’s uncertain economic forecasts.
Using automotive manufacturing as an example, let’s look at three still-developing technologies with the most potential to help manufacturing operations achieve greater operational efficiency, and then consider how to boost their individual power even more by integrating them into a truly intelligent enterprise.
Digital twin technology
It may no longer be new, but digital twin technology still sounds to me like the science fiction of my teen years: a virtual replica of a physical device, with a bridge capable of exchanging data and information between the two.
In the automotive sector, Tesla is a well-known use case for digital twin technology. According to public reports, Tesla creates a digital twin of every auto it manufactures.
Data is exchanged between the auto and its virtual twin throughout the auto’s lifecycle. Tesla is able to fix any number of issues individual to that specific vehicle by sending a software update or digital fix.
Manufacturers have long had real-time supply chain visibility from suppliers to finished product. As IoT becomes woven into the fabric of our everyday lives and digital twin technology becomes more cost-effective, that visibility stretches to include a product’s entire lifecycle.
Customised mobile applications
For most of us, our smart phones and their apps are as much a part of our daily lives as our toothbrush or our commute. So it isn’t surprising to see customised manufacturing apps make their way onto the production floor.
The next generation of apps will move the power of digital from an add-on to the core of the enterprise.
A manufacturer of front-end car bumpers and surrounding components (‘fascia’), illustrates this well.
The company wanted a more accurate way of identifying and resolving issues that surface on the production floor.
With hundreds of bumper sets rolling off the assembly line every day, one issue at any step in the process could result in production challenges and delays throughout the assembly line.
As part of the company’s digital transformation, workers using mobile phones equipped with barcode scanners now gain immediate information about each fascia as it rolls through assembly.
Because they have more information about each individual piece, they are better able to make informed, immediate decisions.
The mobile phones alert workers to parts shortages and provide alerts to supervisors when designated events are triggered on the assembly line, allowing them to resolve issues before significant delays occur.
And the data captured via the scanners keeps all departments informed about the status of manufacturing lines.
Here’s where science fiction goes to work. Hololens headsets blend digital imagery with the real world to help frontline workers learn new skills or carry out their existing work more accurately and effectively.
For example, in common applications, the headset’s visual field is overlaid with customised digital arrows and diagrams that guide workers in their tasks.
By reading barcodes, hololens technology can calibrate its augmented reality (AR) programs with physical objects and spaces, making it possible for workers to make better decisions and achieve greater control over their tasks.
Using its communications capabilities, hololens can connect field workers with specialists elsewhere, for example when a machine breaks down, or maintenance is required.
In the past, time was wasted while specialists travelled to the site, however now they can interact with a technician wearing HoloLens to allow them to see and troubleshoot the problem.
Early uses of hololens focused on employee training and assembly aids that improved worker accuracy when they performed complex tasks such as wiring. These applications have proved its worth; the technology is now poised to move deeper into the enterprise.
Thanks to recent advances, technology once trapped in operational silos can now be woven into sophisticated end-to-end solutions that provide a competitive edge even in the most challenging economic cycle. That’s the power of a truly intelligent enterprise.
*All images courtesy of Depositphotos