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Features, Special report

Digital Factory is gaining ground. the idea of creating a digital twin before moving to actual production is beginning to find favour with manufacturing companies. helps them save on product Development.

By Jayashree Kini Mendes

Despite a timidity about Digitisation, manufacturers are beginning to recognise its strategic potential, which previously tended to be overlooked. Moreover, in a sharp departure from the recent past, the possibility of being able to immediately tailor products to match customer preferences and to offer customers the option to “build” their own products appears to be driving production decisions more strongly than slashing labor costs. Most of these can happen because manufacturers want to get it first time right. More Indian companies are warming up to the thought of manufacturing faster with shorter lead times and improving quality. Only a digital factory can help them with this process.

Technological advancements are helping cross-functional teams with real-time visibility, better and faster decision making, which results in increased productivity and quality.”
– Sunil Mehta

A digital factory often calls for a whole new set of rules, including increased agility, new technology solutions, and cross-functional teams. Those differences have often spelled success for companies trying to develop and push out new digital capabilities quickly.
Sunil Mehta, GM, automotive business development department, Factory Automation & Industrial Division, Mitsubishi Electric India, says, “Technological advancements are reducing the gap between automation and IT operations. This helps cross-functional teams across the value chain with respect to real-time visibility, better and faster decision making, which results in increased productivity and quality.”
Mitsubishi Electric, in association with alliance partners, provides an extensive solution to utilise full potential of technologies and enables digitisation. The solution is focussed on a wide range of factory automation products from Field Layer to Control Layer & IT Layer, including faster networking solutions. Together this comprehensive solution is termed as ‘e-F@ctory’. This is possible through diverse experience, knowledge and technologies unique to Mitsubishi Electric and its alliance partner companies.
In recent times, digitisation has changed the face of the manufacturing sector. Some have started using digital factories as incubators of more agile ways of working. Thiru Vengadam, regional VP for Epicor Software in India, says, “A digital factory uses a combination of various technologies to operate and communicate more effectively. It is a realisation of the potential of modern technology such as the Internet of Things (IoT) combined with artificial intelligence, and data science. Implemented right, it can enable manufacturers to improve efficiencies whilst reducing costs. It challenges the way that manufacturing—at its very core a risk averse sector—functions by centralizing and integrating systems from shop floor to top floor.”

Engineer using tablet, heavy automation robot arm machine in smart factory industrial with tablet real time monitoring system application.

The Best of Automation
One company that has acted on its words is Siemens. Last year, Siemens opened its first digital factory in India, also the third globally after one each in Germany and China, as the industrial conglomerate pitches smart facilities to small and medium scale enterprises in the country. The German company hopes to use Mumbai’s digital factory as a showcase to sell a range of plant automation equipment and software to Indian manufacturing units. It wants to reduce cycle time and time-to-market, which is becoming more and more critical. This kind of data flow is possible because digitisation is speeding up the whole process and improving overall value chain.
Agreeing with this, Kiran Divekar, director, DELMIA, Dassault Systèmes India, says, “Digital factory calls for transformation. In fact what we have to offer is what we call the 3D experience twin. I don’t want to call it an additional factory because in 3D experience twin, the technologies we provide marries with what we called as a virtual model. It is what you want to create out of the factory with real time data. It is marrying virtual with the real.”
Few businesses have not already tried something in terms of a digital transformation. The ones who are doing it are launching pilots and trying experiments. It takes a leap of faith to pivot from what they’ve been doing to moving toward more of a digital-factory model. It is possible for companies to start the factory as a virtual factory, if you will, in that you tie together a few of the different initiatives that are already going on under the same set of rules and culture and operating model. In a banking context, one could say the digital factory is there to support the migration of customers in terms of digital sales, service, and engagement and building the capabilities to support our customers.

I don’t want to call it an additional factory because in 3D experience twin, the technologies we provide marries with what we called as a virtual model.”
– Kiran Divekar

In an energy company, one might say want to dramatically increase the level of automation and monitoring that happens in the mines. But all these activities need talent to deliver on those things, a number of people, manage the culture shift to help create and what that means for the setup, etc.
It takes decades for companies to upscale factories and retrofit existing equipment to take full and proper advantage of the capabilities of IoT and the unprecedented volume of information it can generates. One needs to make sure that the manufacturer gets the quality and efficiency of performance that they get from other areas of their lives. One of the most important things is not only getting the data off the machines but having the analytics to self-correct. And that’s a journey.
Vengadam says, “Epicor offers powerful software solutions with the necessary industry-specific functionality to manage complexity, optimise processes, and support business growth. The global ERP solution, Epicor ERP, helps businesses get fit for Industry 4.0 by supporting real-time reporting, analytics, automation, and IoT—modern technology that can power innovation and business growth. Our product strategy embraces the unique strengths of the Epicor industry-specific platforms, underpinned by a modern platform and enhanced with applications that enable digital transformation and raise the bar for automation, analytics, and an improved customer experience.”

Man using tablet PC against industrial equipments in factory.

Reach for the Stars
Manufacturing workers can adjust to the capabilities of IoT, but CEOs must “help employees embrace this world”. Factory-floor labour especially may be greatly disrupted in areas such as miniaturisation where human senses and appendages simply aren’t capable of working at the small scale that sensors can. One needs to look for ways to combine the advantages of humans with the capabilities of IoT. That may mean hiring or training more controls engineers who do more with data. Or having collaborative robots that don’t do everything themselves but are humans and automation working together.
Divekar says, “Some of the sectors in India that are developing building digital factories is the automotive sector. Of course, it’s the most competitive now. Perhaps that is the only industry that is seeing much innovations and has a market that sees high demand. Demanding customers implies that OEMs must take the next step of 3D experience twin or a digital factory because they need to be agile in their manufacturing.”
Most small & medium manufacturers are clear that digitisation is the future of their business. They may not be knowing how the future would be or how to get there but they can sense the benefits it could bring. The challenge these businesses see today, is how to move ahead with the implementation of digitisation.
According to Mehta, the key enablers of digital factories are: Data Collection Technologies, Data Communication Technologies, and Data Analysis Technologies. Data collection and transportation is the core of smart factories. he adds that the intelligent analysis of this data will provide performance indicators of the manufacturing process. This data can be used to provide the analytical procedures such as
* Descriptive: Used to capture products condition and operation
* Diagnostics: Explains the cause of failure or performance reduction
* Predictive: Senses the patterns that signal obstructing events
* Perspective: Identify measures to improve outcomes or correct problems

Engineer using tablet, heavy automation robot arm machine in smart factory industrial with tablet real time monitoring system application.

The common misunderstanding about digitisation is that an organisation needs to change their current operations and invest heavily into new advanced technologies.
Through digitalisation, Indian SMEs can build a competitive edge, enter a higher value chain, and compete with foreign counterparts. This would further broaden the potential of growth for medium and small enterprises. “Epicor ERP is a global ERP solution that provides flexibility and agility to drive growth and opportunity while easing complexity. A single, end-to-end business application, Epicor ERP is available on Cloud or premises. It offers a modular approach with robust capabilities focused on reducing costs, streamlining processes, and improving customer responsiveness across the enterprise for continued growth and profitability,” says Vengadam.
For the MSMEs, what is prohibitive is the cost. Creating a digital factory is quite expensive from an infrastructure point of view besides the cost of the software. A solution is when OEMs work with their supply network, says Divekar.
There’s no way out. Indian companies will be required to adopt digitalisation in factories and the government would do well to help the SMEs and MSMEs to make technology more affordable.

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