Turning the challenges of manufacturing into new opportunities for success with digital transformation.
The global manufacturing world seems to be travelling back in time. Large production plants and long assembly lines, where goods were mass produced in hundreds and thousands, may become a thing of the past. Instead we are witnessing a growing demand for products that are highly-customized to the needs of individual end customers. This is much like the years preceding the First Industrial Revolution when each product was painstakingly crafted by hand.
Humans and machines are working together, in ever closer collaboration. Virtual reality tools support decisions and facilitate access to information in applications as diverse as field maintenance and product design.
But this time, something is about to change.
Instead of workers spending hours creating made-to-order products, industry can now quickly produce millions of goods, in smaller and smaller batch sizes, without compromising on quality or productivity. This transformation is possible in a data-driven digital ecosystem powered by connected devices and solutions that maximize the potential from existing infrastructure.
Simply put, the digital transformation of businesses allows to capitalize on the benefits of digital tools such as smart sensors, cloud computing and the Internet to add value to existing manufacturing processes. Digitalizing a production process opens fresh opportunities by gathering meaningful insights that can be analyzed to better understand the condition of each and every individual piece of equipment. Sensors on a machine continuously track its status and can immediately alert operators in the case of an anomaly in normal working parameters. Digitalization enables operators to move from reacting to incidents on the shop floor to proactively maintaining their equipment to avoid unplanned downtime. This gives manufacturers the ability to meet increasingly demanding deadlines even while producing a greater mix of products.
Building a digital ecosystem
In a world of ever-growing complexity and competition, digitalization can offer a quick boost to the productivity of industrial equipment. Something as simple as installing a sensor on heat-sensitive machines, such as a welding robot, can help an operator to track temperature variations to ensure that the optimum temperature is maintained for the most flawless weld from the robot. Gaining increased transparency of processes in a factory not only leads to higher productivity, but also potentially helps to save significant resources due to fewer unplanned outages and can increase the lifecycle and decrease the power consumption of equipment.
ABB’s dual-armed Yumi robot has taken robot-human collaboration to new heights.
Of course, the greatest value of the digital transformation of industries can be achieved when every piece of equipment along the value chain is connected. Be it directly on the shop floor or through the Industrial Internet of Things. Digitally connected assets that understand the information being passed around the shop floor can interact autonomously, lending a whole new dimension of efficiency and autonomy to industries.
The right digital strategy to choose
The statistics around digital transformation are highly encouraging. A 2019 report by market research firm IDC estimated that direct investment in digital transformation would approach a staggering $7.4 trillion between now and 20231. But on the flipside, it is not uncommon to see digital transformation strategies failing to reach their goals as companies struggle to find the right approach and trained employees who can take on the challenge of a complete recast of their business models.
By scanning the QR code of this ACS880 drive, this field technician gains instant access to a wealth of data.
For some six decades now, ABB has been at the forefront of developing and deploying technology for digital manufacturing. Just one example is the introduction of the world`s first digitally controlled robot in the year 1974. Today, ABB as a technology leader is driving the digital transformation of industries. It masters all elements of the Fourth Industrial Revolution that represents the next wave of innovations including IIoT, artificial intelligence and modular manufacturing to support both big and small businesses. For instance, artificial intelligence is at the heart of a solution that ABB has co-created with Microsoft to help a Nordic salmon fishery remotely track its fish population, thereby reducing the need for human intervention and ultimately making the production of over 70,000 tons of salmon a year more sustainable.
Digital transformation in real-time
One of the cornerstones of digital transformations and the factory of the future is the ability to act in real time, which allows companies to quickly respond to issues before they become problems. That is why I believe that progress that ABB has made with its telecommunication partners Ericsson and Swisscom in the field of 5G communications is so exciting.
At the recently concluded World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, ABB’s collaborative YuMi robot carved a message in a sandbox that was replicated at the same time by a second YuMi robot located 1.5 km away. This demonstration of low latency communication over long distances enabled by 5G can help bring future concepts of more flexible and modular manufacturing to reality. 5G networks over a specified area can connect thousands of automated guided vehicles that move around the factory floor bringing essential parts to production hubs within a very short time.
Much like mass production; paper designs and traditional 2D schematics will find fewer users as the industrial world becomes more digital. Taking their place are concepts like digital twins where a fully functional virtual image of a physical asset is created to help operators iron out details such as to test the interaction of a machine with its surroundings. Digital twins allow businesses avoid losing time in perfecting and testing out product prototypes or modifications and potentially reducing production costs.
A digital transformation of its own kind is happening in industrial services. Advanced monitoring solutions, such as ABB AbilityTM Connected Services, are helping companies monitor their assets in many sites on one system. Connected Services applied to ABB’s robots can help businesses monitor the condition of their fleet, diagnose anomalies, remotely operate them, help plan maintenance schedules by prioritizing the hardest working robots and provide a backup management so as to enable easy and fast recovery from a systems crash or from unwanted changes.
Enhancing efficiency and productivity, reducing unwanted incidents and creating a more reliable manufacturing process using digital transformation ultimately reduces the consumption of resources and helps build a more sustainable manufacturing process. We are at a point in time where we have come to understand that digitalization is not just a passing fad or a privilege of large companies, but a fundamental element of the future of industries.