M anufacturing was vertically integrated in the international era (1960s-1980s). The R&D, design and production were carried out locally in the home country. The suppliers were local. There were a few or no collaborations and little or no use of IT. In the global era (1990s-2000), companies started going global. R&D and design were done centrally. Companies started moving production to offshore suppliers. The IT and technology spent greatly increased, but was mainly focused on Y2K and large ERP/E-business implementations. The flat earth era (2000 - present) is powered by the internet and advancement in telecom / IT. Today, the global competitive environment drives the location of R&D, design, manufacturing and product delivery. Manufacturing companies presently can leverage a vast manufacturing and IT talent pool from anywhere in the world.
Product and plant engineers have all along been communicating through 2D data and other manual mechanisms. Given the complexities involved in product design and manufacturing, the manual methods make it difficult to co-ordinate the efforts between the engineering and manufacturing functions. Moreover, reading such data in abstract forms depends greatly on the skill of the engineer.
In conventional manufacturing, activities happen in a sequence. The product designs are first confirmed. This is followed by conversion of the design into clay/wood/plastic mock-ups for various test and verifications. Then the feasibility of manufacturing is checked. Carrying out any design changes in the mean time would mean a series of changes in the assembly line as well. Moreover, the associated data integration, documentation and change management issues need to be addressed. With the ever increasing labour rates, regulatory requirements, safety concerns and other factors, the room for changes in the product feature or assembly line after physical commissioning of the plant would be prohibitively expensive and time consuming. There is also very little scope for evaluating various what–if scenarios. Managing all this complexity manually is nothing less than a herculean task for the manufacturers. New and unprecedented growth in customer demands, globalisation, the changing external landscape with the reduction of trade barriers and other factors pose new challenges and opportunities for the manufacturing industry. Innovation of new high quality products with faster time to market is a critical imperative before manufacturing companies today. Apart from this, continued market/economic pressures have emphasised the need for manufacturing companies to continually improve efficiency, reduce cost of operations & improve utilisation of facilities for increased throughput of resources. In this context, it has become critical for the manufacturing companies to transform the conventional engineering-manufacturing interface to meet the above challenges. Manufacturers are turning to IT to effect this transformation. Digital manufacturing (DM) technology enables this transformation.
Imagine making an engineering and design change in the US, and having robots, resources and lines reconfigured in China to make the modified product within hours, instead of months; so they can be shipped to customers in Europe. Wouldn’t it be great to re-configure complete assembly plants and the supply chain to meet the global demand, as a function of changes in specific customer requirements? That is the power of DM – a transformational change agent in the manufacturing domain.
In simple terms, DM is the technology that bridges the gap between engineering design and production by enabling concurrent development using simulation. The idea behind DM is to leverage IT to collaboratively develop the manufacturing plan and the associated plant design simultaneously with the product design. Before the product design is confirmed and sent to the shop floor for manufacturing, the design parameters and the manufacturability of the product is tested thoroughly in the virtual world. This involves creating a virtual / digital product and factory environment where various parameters are fed in the system. The entire set up is made to run on a multi-dimensional visualisation to verify the conformance to set criteria. Based on the output, the feedback is then incorporated in the product design and shop floor design. This involves interaction of various elements in the value chain like a worker’s interaction with a machine, worker’s movement within the shop floor, material movement in the shop floor and so on. In simple words, the real world system is mimicked virtually to save cost and time.
Digital Vs conventional manufacturing
Figure 2 represents the key differences between digital and conventional manufacturing through various stages from product development to rolling out the product.
In sequential manufacturing, the subsequent activities are started only after the completion of the preceding activity. This consumes extra time and money when compared to concurrent development, where the subsequent processes are commenced midway through the preceding activities. This is enabled by simulating all the activities involved in the chain, thereby making it possible to incorporate changes, at almost no extra cost, even at the midst of the subsequent activity.
Typical DM applications
A look at typical digital manufacturing applications:The digital plantWith manufacturing going global, there is a strong need for reconfiguration of existing manufacturing and assembly plants as well as setting up of ‘Greenfield’ facilities in new locations. DM helps address this challenge through the concept of ‘the digital plant’. Combined with lean manufacturing principles and six sigma, DM tools enable setting up the ‘digital plant’.
Starting from the product definition, DM helps set up the digital plant going into the depth of macro and micro level plant layout, line layout and definition, line simulation, line balancing, optimisation of line and process plans, tooling station detail, material flow, and kitting of modules. The digital plant integrates design at plant, zone, line, station and equipment levels. As a result of this approach; multiple what-if scenarios can be simulated, evaluated and visualised in 3D in the digital plant, early on in the product development process, before the need for investment in plant infrastructure. In addition, the movement of a 3D prototype through the digital plant can also be simulated. Thus the digital plant helps reduce unpredicted product launch costs and corrective tear-up of physical infrastructure. Figure 3 provides some of the typical applications of DM.
Benefits of DM
DM helps manufacturers in different facets of engineering and manufacturing.
It helps engineers design the optimal ergonomic working environment by simulating the human operator. By reviewing the movement, distance, reachability, load factors and so on, the engineer can alter the cell, shop floor layout for best utilisation of manpower and related resources. Apart from the above, DM helps organisations to explore different what-if scenarios, enhance innovation, premium product pricing and improved product quality. Global manufacturing organisations are embracing DM as a key technology for business transformation.
DaimlerChrysler wanted to reduce costs of individual vehicles, shorten product development times and ensure continuous improvement in quality. The manufacturing practices employed were disintegrated and traditional leading to long hours of production time coupled with increased costs.
The company implemented an integrated digital development process from product planning to factory planning before production facilities are installed or started. With the introduction of DM, significant cost savings were achieved in the SLK Model, E-Class and C-Class cars. The assembly time reduced to 15 hours from 20 hours for C class cars earlier and a further reduction to 10 hours is anticipated. In the earlier process, 370 welding clamps were used in the E-Class cars. Post DM, this was reduced to just 15 welding clamps.
Likewise there are many other such examples.General Motors uses DM tools to eliminate physical mock-ups and saves $ 75 million per annumIndustrial & farm equipment major, CAT, uses online assembly catalogues for its engine assembly unit to ensure FIRST TIME RIGHT production80 per cent of part interference problems in assembly and quality were resolved in Toyota by pre-validating the interference process through digital simulationPratt & Whitney has witnessed $ 500,000 savings on every new engine produced due to pre-validation of proc-esses. Time to market reduced from 5 to 3 years and planning to further reduced this to 30 months using DMFaster deployment of machines through offline robot programming – 3 months to 2 weeksDM helped General Motors reuse 80 per cent of the plant design for a new power train production facility in Eastern Europe
DM is not a single step, it’s a journey. If a company is already using a 3D CAD modeling, it has already taken the first step. Most organisations usually have islands of DM and PLM applications.
Implementation of DM requires a holistic approach. Success depends on having a clear vision; strategy based on business needs and well identified improvement goals. This ‘digital manufacturing’ journey is not going to be easy, will require investments in infrastructure, creation of supporting IT tools and toolkits, standardisation, training, flexibility, modularity and scalability. Even though DM provides faster and compelling benefits the organisation is likely to face the following challenges:Affordability - Costs involved in implementing a DM solution are high. But the investment in this prevention cost is miniscule when compared to the internal and external failure costAdaptation to the digital world-training and change management of the employees to the new world of DMTop management commitment and having the right leadership at different levels
It is equally important for an organisation to choose the right partner for developing the custom made DM system. The manufacturer should ensure that the partner has the right domain expertise. Such a partner will help capture the right business requirements and help develop the DM practices best suited for the organisation.
Significant opportunity for India
Over the past decade, global sourcing of services has witnessed unprecedented growth. Capitalising on its advantages of high skill talent pool and lower costs of operations, India has established itself as a distinguished leader on the world stage in the IT-ITES arena. Today, India is recognised as the global services hub. The phenomenon of global sourcing is rapidly extending. Latest services lines are emerging as candidates for global sourcing. Engineering and R&D services are one such key emerging service line. Engineering and R&D services are a huge market. To quote some statistics:Global spending for engineering services is currently estimated at $ 750 billion per year. By 2020, this is expected to grow to over $ 1 trillionOf the $ 750 billion, only about $ 10-15 billion is currently being off shored. The off shored component is expected to be a $ 150 – 225 B market by 2020India’s share of the off-shored component is currently 12 per cent. It could potentially increase to 25–30 per cent by 2020, providing India an opportunity of $ 50 billion in off-shored engineering and R&D services
DM services require a combination of engineering domain expertise and IT skills. With its abundant talent pool in IT and engineering coupled with engineering domain expertise available through the presence of a robust domestic manufacturing industry, India is ideally placed to tap this significant opportunity. By employing a collaborative approach, bringing together industry, academia, research institutes and other stakeholders, India could lead this opportunity.
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