Manufacturers all over the world are thriving amidst today’s challenges by embracing industrial digital transformation. Emerging technologies and innovative approaches are revolutionizing how manufacturers operate.
By utilizing these new digital tools, manufacturers can vault themselves into the future and overcome everything from supply chain issues to staffing shortages. These are the top ways that manufacturers are implementing digital transformations.
1. Smart Operations With IoT
The Internet of Things (IoT) is enabling manufacturing facilities to become ultra-connected and transforming how they operate. IoT is the same technology that powers smart homes, from appliances to lightbulbs. Manufacturers are using it to collect data and insight into how their facilities are performing. In fact, an estimated 84% of business leaders reported using industrial IoT to create new income streams as of 2015.
For example, a manufacturer could use IoT tags to track and monitor their inventory, resulting in optimized inventory management. This capability extends throughout the supply chain, as well. A manufacturer could continue monitoring its inventory as it is shipped to warehouses or distribution centers. IoT devices could even track the progress of the trucks transporting the goods.
IoT devices are helping manufacturers improve their facilities’ overall efficiency. Devices like smart thermostats, for example, ensure energy is used efficiently, reducing operating costs. The data collected by these sensors and devices can offer valuable insights for optimization, as well.
2. Optimizing Logistics With Data
Manufacturing logistics is more complex than ever, between the skyrocketing popularity of online shopping and the strained global supply chain. Big data and cloud computing are helping manufacturers evolve and optimize their logistics, though. IoT devices are closely connected to this trend due to their data collection capabilities.
In-depth data about every aspect of a manufacturer’s operations is the key to streamlining logistics. This niche of digital transformation is all about transparency and visibility. Digital tools are opening the black box of operations and revealing concrete areas where manufacturers can improve performance.
For example, data from IoT sensors might reveal that products are getting backed up at one particular part of the manufacturing process. After this bottleneck is identified, manufacturers can test different methods of resolving the issue and use the IoT sensor data to monitor their progress.
Cloud computing allows all of this data to be stored and processed efficiently and affordably. In the past, if a company wanted to process large amounts of data, they needed to invest in their own IT infrastructure. Cloud and edge computing allow data processing to happen off-site, borrowing third-party processing power. This allows even small manufacturers to access cutting-edge computing power, which is vital to a successful digital transformation.
3. Improving Safety With Wearables
One specific type of connected device transforming manufacturing is safety wearables. These devices are helping manufacturers keep their employees safe on the job through safety notifications, behavior tracking, and vitals monitoring. Safety wearables are being used for both training and routine safety monitoring.
There is a wide range of safety wearables on the market, but wristwatch-style trackers tend to be the most popular. The smartwatch form factor is familiar to both employees and supervisors and easily fits a broad spectrum of sizes. These devices can function in a variety of ways, as well. For example, a safety watch might alert its wearer if it detects a body movement that could cause an injury. Similarly, it might warn an employee when they enter a dangerous area of a manufacturing facility.
It is important to note that the goal of safety wearables isn’t to spy on employees but to help them increase their awareness of risky behavior. Experts have pointed out that safety is more important than ever today due to the increasing difficulty in finding new employees, making safety tech a necessity. Additionally, young people – especially Gen-Z – are often more receptive to safety training if technology plays a central role. Safety wearables allow employees to prevent accidents on the job, which is invaluable for both employees and manufacturers.
4. Efficient Quality Control With AI
Improving quality control has a ripple effect of benefits, including happier customers and reduced expenses on resources. However, effective quality control can be a time-consuming part of the manufacturing process, especially when staffing shortages leave fewer employees available. It’s no surprise that many manufacturers are implementing artificial intelligence, or AI, to turn quality control into one of the most efficient steps in their process.
Using cameras and sensors, AI algorithms can autonomously scan units for potential defects. The detection process is rapid and reliable, thanks to the efficiency of narrow AI. These algorithms are trained to be specialists in a certain product, often by processing hundreds or thousands of images of a certain item.
Over time, the algorithm learns to detect defects in images of the object and tell the difference between a properly made item and a damaged one. AI cameras are often attached to robotic arms for added versatility.
5. Boosting Productivity With Robotics
Robotics has been a central part of the manufacturing industry for decades now, but the capabilities of robots have evolved significantly over recent years. In fact, robots are experiencing a noticeable rise in adoption in manufacturing, resulting in faster production and lower costs. With these benefits, it is no surprise that robotics is at the heart of many industrial digital transformation strategies.
Robots can be used to automate repetitive steps of the manufacturing process, filling in the gaps left by the labor shortage. Since a robot can repeat the same action innumerable times without diminishing precision, robotics often correlate to reduced waste and reduced resource expenses in the manufacturing process.
Off the assembly line, robots can automate a variety of operational tasks. For example, pick-and-place robots are gaining popularity in warehouses, where they help pack and sort items. Courier robots can also be used to transport items around manufacturing facilities autonomously, using technology like RFID tags and QR codes.
6. Training Employees for Industry 4.0
A crucial part of any digital transformation is ensuring no team member gets left behind. Industry 4.0, the shift toward next-gen technology in the workplace, is expected to improve productivity and efficiency dramatically. It could also have adverse effects on employees, though, if digital transformation initiatives are not designed to bring team members into the fold.
Manufacturers are using technology to train employees to adapt to new technologies in the workplace. For example, AR and VR training programs are being developed in several industries. These technologies allow employees to learn hands-on without risking any accidents or damage. To truly embrace digital transformation, manufacturers must ensure their employees have the training and tools to unlock the full potential of new technologies on the job.
Joining the Industrial Digital Transformation
The manufacturing industry as a whole is in the midst of an exciting digital transformation. New technologies are flooding the industry, helping manufacturers stay ahead of today’s unprecedented supply chain challenges.
Manufacturers don’t have to be early adopters to be part of the digital revolution, though. Anyone can join the industrial digital transformation by finding ways to update old processes and implement technological solutions for everyday problems. It’s never too late to get started on innovation.
Emily Newton is the Editor-in-Chief of Revolutionized, a magazine exploring how innovations change our world. She has over five years of experience writing articles in the industrial and tech sectors.