Digital manufacturing is the application of computer systems to manufacturing services, supply chains, products and processes. The aim of digital manufacturing technologies are to link systems and processes across all areas of production to create an integrated approach to manufacturing, from design to production and on to the servicing of the final products.
By modelling and simulating processes it is possible to improve the quality of manufacturing decision making, while improving the processes to create cost savings, reduce time to market, and create a joined up manufacturing process that unites digital tools with the physical execution of manufacturing.
By using a process that is centred around a computer, manufacturers can create a digital thread through the manufacturing process to analyse data across the product lifecycle and create actionable processes. Digital manufacturing systems also allow for customer data to be sent to product managers in order to anticipate demand and any ongoing maintenance requirements to deliver products via manufacturing that is centred on customer needs.
The Three Aspects of Digital Manufacturing
Digital manufacturing can be broken down into three main areas; product life cycle, smart factory, and value chain management.
Each of these relates to a different aspect of manufacturing execution, from design and product innovation to the enhancement of production lines and the optimisation of resources for better products and customer satisfaction.
The product life cycle begins with engineering design before moving on to encompass sourcing, production and service life. Each step uses digital data to allow for revisions to design specifications during the manufacturing process.
The smart factory involves the use of smart machines, sensors and tooling to provide real time feedback about the processes and manufacturing technology. By uniting operations technology and information technology, this digital transformation allows for greater visibility of factory processes, control, and optimisation to improve performance.
The value chain management focuses on reducing resources to create an optimal process with decreased inventories while maintaining product quality and customer satisfaction.
The Advantages of Digital Manufacturing
Digital manufacturing offers a number of benefits by uniting manufacturing processes across different departments while reducing the potential for errors by creating an automated exchange of data.
Increased efficiency is accomplished by a joined-up manufacturing process which eliminates errors due to lost or misinterpreted data which is common for paper-based processes.
With a quicker turnaround across all levels of the value chain, digital manufacturing offers reduced costs, while allowing for design changes to be implemented in real time and also lowering maintenance costs.
The real-time manufacturing visibility afforded by digital technologies provides improved insights for critical decisions and a faster pace of innovation.
Furthermore, digital manufacturing allows an entire manufacturing process to be created virtually so that designers can test the process before investing time and money into the physical implementation.
Cloud-based manufacturing can be used for this modelling, taking open access information from a number of sources to develop reconfigurable production lines and thereby improve efficiency.
Digital Manufacturing and Design
Alongside the optimisation of processes, digital manufacture delivers a number of advantages for design too. These design advantages begin with the use of 3D modelling software to design tools and machinery as well as factory floor layouts and production flows.
Through the simulation of a manufacturing process it is possible to find methods to improve a process inexpensively and quickly before production even begins.
Even when manufacturing has started it is possible to monitor systems to assess any deviations or problems with production so they can be addressed quickly.
As well as optimising processes, digital technology can be used to make fast changes to product designs while assessing their suitability. This process can be achieved via cloud-based design.
Industrial Use of Digital Manufacturing
Digital manufacturing has spread rapidly through industries such as aerospace and defence. This allows for the integration of supply networks through cloud computing to allows suppliers to collaborate effectively.
Digital manufacturing technology is also perfectly aligned for incorporation into automated processes such as additive manufacturing, laminated object manufacturing, and CNC cutting, milling, and lathing.
Digital Manufacturing and the Future
Digital manufacturing looks set to continue and grow in the future as the use of information for production processes becomes increasingly automated.
With systems that are able to interact with each other, the growth of Industry 4.0 looks set to continue the trend for joined-up production in order to increase competition and improve and streamline processes.