Automation and the Future of Digital Manufacturing?
The manufacturing industry has undergone significant transformation over the past few years. The sector has been a pioneer in automation and has welcomed artificial intelligence, robotics and machine learning into operations in a bid to speed up processes and increase efficiency.
Speaking in July’s Magazine, Sebastien Grau, Regional Sales Director Middle East & Sub Saharan Africa at Rockwell Automation, believes that the evolution of technology has been transformative. “Today, we are seeing an array of rapid advances in automation such as the use of robotics, artificial intelligence, digital twins and machine learning - which are all enabling machines to perform a wide range of work activities.”
Grau adds that “with automation, manufacturers can get much greater access to data, work smarter and respond faster with the industrial internet of things (IoT). Automation allows for improved collaboration and efficiencies, as well as the capability to produce actionable information which allows workers to make better and faster decisions with scalable analytics.”
1. Higher Productivity
End-to-end factory automation can double or even triple production in comparison to plants that use just a few automation systems. In addition, equipment can often be left in operations for longer periods of time with comparatively little impact on the maintenance outlook.
2. Lower Costs
Through automation, the complex process of fabricating a product can be simplified to its most basic components. Automation systems can be continuously upgraded until they are as efficient as possible, which generates little waste heat, using the minimum power and focusing on controlled and precise movements. This makes manufacturing cheaper and means costs are reduced and profits are increased.
3. Workplace Safety
When automation is utilised in a factory, it means team members need not worry about the most dangerous and dirty tasks. Life-threatening processes are usually the first delegated to robots as it reduces accidents and helps workers to maintain their health over time.
4. High-Level Focus
Tedious manual labour can simply be left to the machines and enable manufacturing personnel to focus on the best way to scale efficiency on the floor, expand their products’ capabilities and lots of other engaging tasks. In 2020, there’s an automation boom that promises to significantly transform how manufacturing is done.
Gartner: Leaders Lack Skilled Smart Manufacturing Workers
With organisations rapidly adopting industry 4.0 capabilities to increase productivity, efficiency, transparency, and quality as well as reduce cost, manufacturers “are under pressure to bring their workforce into the 21st century,” says Gartner.
While more connected factory workers are leveraging digital tools and data management techniques to improve decision accuracy, increase knowledge and lessen variability, 57% of manufacturing leaders feel that their organisations lack the skilled workers needed to support their smart manufacturing digitalisation plans.
“Our survey revealed that manufacturers are currently going through a difficult phase in their digitisation journey toward smart manufacturing,” said Simon Jacobson, Vice President analyst, Gartner Supply Chain practice.
“They accept that changing from a break-fix mentality and culture to a data-driven workforce is a must. However, intuition, efficiency and engagement cannot be sacrificed. New workers might be tech-savvy but lack access to best practices and know-how — and tenured workers might have the knowledge, but not the digital skills. A truly connected factory worker in a smart manufacturing environment needs both.”
Surveying 439 respondents from North America, Western Europe and APAC, Gartner found that “organisational complexity, integration and process reengineering are the most prevalent challenges for executing smart manufacturing initiatives.” Combined they represent “the largest change management obstacle [for manufacturers],” adds Gartner.
“It’s interesting to see that leadership commitment is frequently cited as not being a challenge. Across all respondents, 83% agree that their leadership understands and accepts the need to invest in smart manufacturing. However, it does not reflect whether or not the majority of leaders understand the magnitude of change in front of them – regarding technology, as well as talent,” added Jacobson.
Technology and People
While the value and opportunities smart manufacturing can provide an organisation is being recognised, introducing technology alone isn’t enough. Gartner emphasises the importance of evolving factory workers alongside the technology, ensuring that they are on board in order for the change to be successful.
“The most immediate action is for organisations to realize that this is more than digitisation. It requires synchronising activities for capability building, capability enablement and empowering people. Taking a ‘how to improve a day in the life’ approach will increase engagement, continuous learning and ultimately foster a pull-based approach that will attract tenured workers. They are the best points of contact to identify the best starting points for automation and the required data and digital tools for better decision-making,” said Jacobson.
Long term, “it is important to establish a data-driven culture in manufacturing operations that is rooted in governance and training - without stifling employee creativity and ingenuity,” concluded Gartner.