- By Bill Lydon
- November 10, 2022
Significant advances in technology, communications, and software enable digital manufacturing synchronization across the entire business structure. This feature originally appeared in Bill Lydon's 7th Annual Industrial Automation & Control Trends Report.
In any business, functional silos create overlaps in processes and gaps in knowledge that impede collaboration, efficiency and, ultimately, growth. This is increasingly true in manufacturing, which has traditionally been kept apart from the rest of an organization’s business systems. As digital transformation continues to take hold, more companies are realizing that this setup only serves to delay valuable data to the stakeholders who most need it to make decisions that affect the entire enterprise’s viability.
Why integration is transformational The transformation to integrated, real-time, data-driven manufacturing seen in initiatives worldwide is reflexive and stems from the awareness of inefficiencies, lost opportunities, and poor decisions based on lack of immediate data that can be responded to. With the technology available today, manufacturing can, and should be, integrated like other parts of the business structure.
The most efficient manufacturing businesses will operate in this type of environment, replacing the enterprise resource planning (ERP) of yore (Figure 1). It no longer makes sense to create manual work orders to initiate inventory release or production, and then to be blind to what happens in production until plant information is fed back into the system, the so-called “backflush.” Manufacturing execution systems (MES) improve plant visibility and real-time work order/inventory release/production but result in complicated, duplicative models, higher costs, and questionable reliability, while not providing enough insight into product availability. Digital integration changes all of that.
The real-time, data-driven DMA
The shift to a digital manufacturing architecture (DMA) is a fundamental building block for transformation (figure 2) that has implications from the enterprise level to the farthest end of manufacturing and production—sensing and control devices. The distributed system includes applications on embedded processors in sensors, actuators, bar code readers, cameras, and other field devices that can be controlled locally, but equally important, they can also be accessed remotely for complex calculations and adjustments at any time.
This architecture allows for real-time transaction processing and synchronization with manufacturing, creating a closed loop. In addition to being highly integrated, effective DMAs:
- Provide immediate visibility throughout the entire enterprise
- Deliver unified, accurate, and timely data for decision-making
- Adjust to changes in supply chain, cost, and customer demand to optimize internal and external resources.
Enterprises that have been using plant floor computing to try to achieve real-time synchronization have had to continually integrate information technology (IT) and operational technology (OT). The next step is transitioning to a highly integrated architecture that provides immediate visibility from the manufacturing and production stage, throughout the supply chain, and ultimately to customers and other stakeholders.
The most effective architecture requires orchestrating and optimizing all elements of the process for flexibility in the face of external changes, including supply chains, customer demands, costs, availability, energy, and sustainability requirements. The emerging DMA technology leverages advances in distributed computing and open systems to accomplish this and achieve synchronized, real-time, optimized production (Figure 3).
Customer orders, supply chain factors, and factory operations are fed into the digital twin, an ideal operating model of the plant and its processes. Real-time linkages throughout the system create a closed loop (Figure 4) with constant feedback, whereby analytics, artificial intelligence and machine learning adjust and optimize operations.
Real-time digital manufacturing is about becoming a more effective, holistic and competitive business. The foundations of manufacturing and production are being reshaped by the integration of manufacturing/production into the entire business system.
A digital manufacturing architecture offers a streamlined approach to enterprise-wide clarity that allows stakeholders to adjust operations based on real-time insights, i.e., data transparency. This increases reliability, quality, production, profitability, safety, flexibility, informed decision-making, and overall competitiveness as a business.
Each organization needs to find the best way for its teams to achieve the goal of efficient and profitable production through digitalization, but it starts with integrating IT, OT, engineering, production, and other departments. By combining these stakeholder groups, instead of maintaining siloed departments, businesses gain the deep knowledge and expertise embedded in them and unleash new thinking, innovation, and results, along with their business-critical data.
This feature originally appeared in Bill Lydon's 7th Annual Industrial Automation & Control Trends Report.
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