How manufacturers can master digital transformation
Kevin Bull, Product Strategy Director at Columbus UK explains how manufacturers can master and reap the rewards of digital technologies.
Manufacturers today find themselves in a constant state of evolution – companies often finish one round of transformation only to find they must start another to keep pace with rapidly changing enterprise technology and customer needs.
When Harley-Davidson wanted to enhance productivity at its motorcycle plant, the company deployed networked sensors and smart devices throughout the factory to collect data on its machines and production processes. The insights gained through this Internet of Things (IoT) solution allowed the company to shrink a fixed 21-day production schedule for new orders down to just six hours – cutting downtime and saving $200 million of operational costs in the process.
Carmaker Ford has also refined its operations by embracing digital transformation and disruptive technology. The firm had to stop production and use specialist scaffolding or elevated platforms to complete safety inspections at the highest parts of its engine plant, but it now uses small drones fitted with cameras to complete the job, saving time and money while improving safety.
It’s exactly these kinds of gains that have made digital transformation essential for manufacturers, but it must be recognised this process will only get more intense as disruptive technologies such as IoT, robotics, virtual reality and artificial intelligence continue to change the way we live and work.
Huge data gains and new business insights earned through digitalisation
Manufacturing companies constantly seek a better understanding of who their customers are, which has led many firms to create direct-to-customer business models that harness the power of the web. This represents another key area of manufacturing evolution – digital transformation.
The Internet and the potential to harvest large volumes of intelligent data online has revolutionised consumer-facing companies, and now we’re starting to see manufacturing firms building business-to-business ecosystems to get closer to their customers.
…and think out of the box to increase revenue
You only have to look at examples of US tractor manufacturer John Deere, which launched an online store selling everything from lawnmowers to fertiliser, or plane maker Airbus which now offers products ranging from watches to model aeroplanes online. These portals capture large volumes of customer data which in turns drives new revenue streams and helps companies better understand demand.
Digital transformation also enables manufacturers to collect data from “under the bonnet” of the company, and not just from the shop floor. Data on everything from sales and supply chains to human resources and finance creates a seamless data flow which can be integrated and analysed, yielding insights into how a company should be run.
Pain points are inevitable – it’s about how you manage them
Manufacturing transformation can generate huge benefits, but making the transition is rarely painless. Factories, for example, often struggle to retrofit legacy sites with the latest technology or to integrate equipment from multiple vendors. Technology is also evolving in increasingly shorter cycles, making it difficult to keep up with the latest innovations.
It’s for this reason that companies would be wise to bring in a systems integrator to help them mitigate the complexity of manufacturing transformation. Some companies avoid deploying complicated technology and instead take short-term measures. They focus on a certain problem but fall into the trap of forgetting the importance of future scalability. This could mean after just a couple of years, they discover they need to add new systems, from new vendors, and are then faced with issues when it comes to unifying their IT landscape.
Bridge the talent gap
Manufacturing companies must also pay close attention to talent management. As the evolution of technology transforms the way firms operate, the right personnel will be critical to manage new systems and processes. But talented data scientists and other such experts are often in short supply. This puts added pressure on the need for existing staff to be trained up through in-house programmes – and this requires investment.
Whether companies choose to recruit new staff or prioritise upskilling their existing workforce, manufacturers must be braced to make significant investments to ensure employees are comfortable using new systems and processes that arise from digitalisation to optimise company performance.
Embrace the digital transformation journey
Manufacturing companies striving to reach a global status need to be thinking about how to improve productivity not just on the factory floor, but throughout their entire supply chain. Technological change will have an impact on every aspect of design and process, from customer choice to supply chain automation. It is essential for the future of the manufacturing sector that all companies, regardless of their size or sub-sector, do not underestimate the challenges that come with digital transformation, but embrace the productivity and strategic advantages it brings.
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Siemens: Providing the First Industrial 5G Router
Across a number of industry sectors, there’s a growing need for both local wireless connectivity and remote access to machines and plants. In both of these cases, communication is, more often than not, over a long distance. Public wireless data networks can be used to enable this connectivity, both nationally and internationally, which makes the new 5G network mainframe an absolutely vital element of remote access and remote servicing solutions as we move into the interconnected age.
Siemens Enables 5G IIoT
The eagerly awaited Scalance MUM856-1, Siemens’ very first industrial 5G router, is officially available to organisations. The device has the ability to connect all local industrial applications to the public 5G, 4G (LTE), and 3G (UMTS) mobile wireless networks ─ allowing companies to embrace the long-awaited Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT).
The router can be used to remotely monitor and service plants, machines, as well as control elements and other industrial devices via a public 5G network ─ flexibly and with high data rates. Something that has been in incredibly high demand after being teased by the leading network providers for years.
Scalance MUM856-1 at a Glance
- Scalance MUM856-1 connects local industrial applications to public 5G, 4G, and 3G mobile wireless networks
- The router supports future-oriented applications such as remote access via public 5G networks or the connection of mobile devices such as automated guided vehicles in industry
- A robust version in IP65 housing for use outside the control cabinet
- Prototypes of Siemens 5G infrastructure for private networks already in use at several sites
“To ensure the powerful connection of Ethernet-based subnetworks and automation devices, the Scalance MUM856-1 supports Release 15 of the 5G standard. The device offers high bandwidths of up to 1000 Mbps for the downlink and up to 500 Mbps for the uplink – providing high data rates for data-intensive applications such as the remote implementation of firmware updates. Thanks to IPv6 support, the devices can also be implemented in modern communication networks.
Various security functions are included to monitor data traffic and protect against unauthorised access: for example, an integrated firewall and authentication of communication devices and encryption of data transmission via VPN. If there is no available 5G network, the device switches automatically to 4G or 3G networks. The first release version of the router has an EU radio license; other versions with different licenses are in preparation. With the Sinema Remote Connect management platform for VPN connections, users can access remote plants or machines easily and securely – even if they are integrated in other networks. The software also offers easy management and autoconfiguration of the devices,” Siemens said.
Preparing for a 5G-oriented Future
Siemens has announced that the new router can also be integrated into private 5G networks. This means that the Scalance MUM856-1 is, essentially, future-proofed when it comes to 5G adaptability; it supports future-oriented applications, including ‘mobile robots in manufacturing, autonomous vehicles in logistics or augmented reality applications for service technicians.’
And, for use on sites where conditions are a little harsher, Siemens has given the router robust IP65 housing ─ it’s “dust tight”, waterproof, and immersion-proofed.
The first release version of the router has an EU radio license; other versions with different licenses are in preparation. “With the Sinema Remote Connect management platform for VPN connections, users can access remote plants or machines easily and securely – even if they are integrated in other networks. The software also offers easy management and auto-configuration of the devices,” Siemens added.