The manufacturing industry is a prime beneficiary of digital technologies. Digitization, also called Industry 4.0, has enormous implications for manufacturers and professionals who buy, sell, design, fabricate, or use electronic components and equipment.
Weather, climate and geopolitical events tend to surface weaknesses in the manufacturing pipeline, including electronics fabrication. Chip shortages in 2020 and 2021 were an outcome two decades in the making. Luckily, digitization is catching up with the exploding global demand for electronic components. Here are several ways it’s impacting manufacturing.
- Digital technologies help bring stability
Intelligent and collaborative digital technologies bring measurable improvements to some of the most important metrics that weigh on business success: labor shortages, productivity and revenue.
Analysis from International Data Corp. (IDC) infers that companies engaging in digitalization now will realize the following benefits by 2024:
- 30% lower employee turnover
- 30% higher workflow productivity
- 30% greater revenue earned per worker
The trend of working from home, even for some unlikely professions in engineering and manufacturing, also benefits from a strong digital backbone.
- 3D printing shortens development time
Consumer and commercial electronics change in capability and form factor all the time, which is why 3D printing is becoming so popular among electronics manufacturers such as PCB designers. Products like smartphones, watches, appliances and even textiles require printed circuit boards, distributed components, and other bespoke features to fit unique shapes and capabilities.
Digital design plus 3D printing creates opportunities for electronic manufacturers to conceive and prototype new products extremely quickly. Any fast-moving industry, like consumer technology, needs an electronics manufacturing sector that’s equally nimble.
- Machine learning advances quality control
QC problems with electronics have repercussions in a long list of industries, from medical to food service. The people and organizations relying on advanced electronics require extremely high tolerances alongside low failure rates. One beverage and food manufacturer that adopted machine learning reduced manual quality checks by 25%.
Other examples include specialized manufacturers using machine learning platforms throughout quality assurance processes. These models can help manufacturers generate work orders, organize tasks and staff, and create digital QC records autonomously. This leads to a more responsive, complete and transparent QC process and faster turnarounds. The advantages of digital inspection equipment over incumbent models are clear: greater flexibility and accuracy, more actionable data to use in later runs, and ultimately lower costs.
- Self-aware machines make maintenance predictive
Machine learning also brings a new level of proactivity to maintaining physical manufacturing and assembly apparatus. The Internet of Things (IoT) provides autonomous condition monitoring for critical equipment plus machine-to-machine communication throughout a facility. Today, that includes robots performing operations, configurable material handling equipment and automated inspection stations.
Whatever the industry, predictive analytics and embedded logic can save a considerable amount of wasted downtime and forfeited profits. Building predictive capabilities into machinery in the oil and gas industry saved one major company $8 million in the first year.
- Digitization builds a circular economy
The World Economic Forum says the only way to bring about climate neutrality by 2050 is to create a global circular economy. It’s resource-efficient, profitable, supports growth, and creates a more equitable distribution of opportunities and resources.
Digitalization is the backbone of this economic model. It facilitates the exchange of data, provides actionable insights into how to fine-tune products, and helps secondary markets reuse and redistribute existing products and materials. In manufacturing, digitalization fuels a circular economy by:
- Facilitating more real-time collaboration between stakeholders and faster data exchanges throughout business ecosystems.
- Sharing digital toolboxes and open-source product designs to help de-silo manufacturing, shed redundancy and open companies to a greater scale of collaboration.
- Returning useful product data after the sale and throughout their lifetime using embedded sensors and logic controllers. This helps bring about quicker iterations and improve lifespans and performance.
- In short, a digital circular economy creates “many-to-many” collaboration and a more circular pipeline for products and innovation than today’s mostly linear one.
- Digital technologies represent a cyber risk
Industry 4.0 technology comes with some risks that need addressing for a confident digital rollout. The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) has identified privacy concerns and data governance as one of the seven top reasons for digitalization hesitancy in manufacturing.
The data captured and held in a manufacturing setting may include camera footage, authentication codes and biometrics, proprietary product information, customer information, and financial records. Connected industrial equipment and a bigger cloud footprint for enterprise resource planning means a broader threat surface. If an IoT device is compromised, it could open a backdoor into the rest of the manufacturer’s networks.
Caution is required to create a smoother rollout and trouble-free operation over time. NIST and other regulatory bodies have plentiful resources available, including those just getting started or those concerned about compliance requirements in a modern setting.
The most important prerequisite to a successful digital transformation is a set of clearly stated objectives and pain points. Prioritize these by their likely impact on the metrics that matter most across the company’s interests. Businesses with the best digitization results adopt technology in a measured way by seizing early wins while laying out a roadmap for future investments.