Smart Manufacturing for Digital Value Creation

15.03.2021 by Daniel Kunz
3D printer with plastic.

Digital value creation results from the benefits that smart products and services offer. Enterprises should develop them close to their core business.

Many companies create value by using digital technologies to change their manufacturing processes or develop additional smart services. In this way manufacturing the actual products can be customized, with customers receiving versions specially adapted to their individual requirements.

One approach to digital value creation is via after sales services such as maintenance or repairs previously undertaken by technicians on-site. Using digital technologies for remote processes is frequently better, however, and not just in the time of coronavirus.

New Production Process: 3D Printing on Plastic and Metal

That is because digitization makes production smarter and more connected. New processes like additive manufacturing make it possible to manufacture one-offs and small runs inexpensively. Additive manufacturing is also known as 3D printing, and unlike processes such as plastic injection molding, 3D printing can produce one-offs or small runs.

3D-Printing

In 3D printing, parts are manufactured in layers of plastic, metal or other materials. 3D polymeric printers make the part’s individual layers out of plastic. In metal printing, lasers melt metal powder and build up the part layer by layer.

A further advantage of 3D printing is component geometries that cannot be achieved by means of injection molding or milling. Aerospace technology companies were the first industrial users of metal printers. SpaceX is a case in point. SpaceX uses metal printers to make the domes of its attitude thrusters while Rolls-Royce uses metal printers to manufacture parts such as turbine blades on-site at many airports.

3D Printing Changes Manufacturing and After-Sales Services

The advantage of this procedure is that spare parts no longer need to be expensively packaged and shipped. They also don’t take up space at the airport – and it would be plenty of space because engines are made up of thousands of components large and small. That has repercussions for both production (fewer small parts are manufactured) and logistics (there is less shipping), and costs are reduced accordingly.

So modern manufacturing processes are parting company with mass production. Increasingly often small runs are manufactured on demand instead – up to and including one-offs. In Industry 4.0 this is frequently referred to as batch size one. The difference between this and previous one-off manufacturing, as in special machine construction, is that products are no longer made by (human) hand but, say, by robots, using digital technology.

Remote Maintenance and Repairs

Progress achieved by digital transformation also relates to maintenance and repairs. The coronavirus crisis poses problems for many engineering and automation technology businesses. Technicians can no longer be sent out to solve them on-site, and global travel seems likely to be difficult for quite a while. That is why augmented reality offers an alternative.

Augmented Reality

Augmented reality relies on visual technologies that use data glasses to display information and objects in the user’s field of vision. As this combines genuine and virtual reality the term mixed reality is also widely used.

In remote maintenance the manufacturer’s specialists help on-site personnel to solve the problem. They can display assembly steps for spare parts or users can work interactively, downloading documentation as required. By wearing and using the data glasses they will always have both hands free with which to work.

Eventually – and in the medium term – digital technologies will change the business models of midrange enterprises by reducing logistics and personnel costs. That will free up additional resources, enabling them to respond with innovations to changes in demand and market trends.

Would you be interested in further useful practical tips on digital transformation? Download the free Smarter Manufacturing trendbook now!


 

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Daniel Kunz
Daniel Kunz

Expert Digital Marketing

Digitization and the Internet of Things are among the favourite topics of Daniel Kunz. He has been with Deutsche Telekom since 2017 and regularly writes about technology trends and many exciting topics, especially for the retail trade and the logistics industry.