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In the 21st century, we have become accustomed to having a boundless digital world at our fingertips. As a result, we can find nearly any fact that you would want to know and almost any product, merely by searching for it on a digital device. And yet the vastness and resolution of the digital world is only increasing, leading consumers to demand products that meet their exacting wishes. While mass production was one of the most important trends of the 20th century, mass customization could be one of the most significant for this one. But mass customization requires that manufacturers not just meet the needs of digitally-driven consumers but to become masters of the digital realm themselves.
Mass customization shifts into high gear
One example of the trend is “co-creation” with customers. “To achive this, the entire production process has to be completely digitized,” said Bernhard Quendt, CTO of Siemens’ Digital Factory Division in a keynote address at the Gartner Symposium in Barcelona. Quendt imagines that one day shoes, for instance, can be precisely tailored for individuals. “If every single customer had individual shoes, imagine what that would mean for production,” he explained. “You would have to change the process for every shoe.” Achieving consistent production of custom products is only possible using digital tools.
The importance of digitally-driven workflow integration
Another recent example illustrating the importance of digital workflows integration comes courtesy of Rehau, a large automotive supplier with more than 19,000 employees and 15 plants internationally. Up until recently, the company relied on custom manufacturing execution systems in each of its facilities, making it impossible to synchronize production between plants. “They decided to get rid of the legacy systems and to standardize their production,” Quendt said. Rehau worked with Siemens to deploy a manufacturing execution system and quality management system along with an integrated product lifecycle management across its 15 plants enabling the company to standardize production procedures and logistics company-wide.
Using digital tools to scale
Another example of the power of digital tools comes courtesy of Bausch + Ströbel, a mid-sized manufacturer specializing in pharmaceutical packaging machinery. Dealing with an array of customer requests, Bausch + Ströbel become adept at making bespoke machines for their customers. “But for special machines they built, they formerly created a one-to-one wooden model for some machines they designed for their customers,” recalled Quendt. The company realized that, in order to scale production of its machines, it would need to embrace a digital approach. The company expects an increase in engineering efficiency of at least 30% by 2020 and has joined forces with Siemens to achieve this goal. The digital twin plays an important role in this process as it enables a virtual commissioning where flaws can be reliably detected and corrected, significantly shortening commissioning time.
While manufacturing ideals like efficiency, waste minimization and continuous process improvements are still vital, in a digital age, it has never been more evident that your customers are your compass. Meeting their needs and navigating the complexity of 21st-century manufacturing demands not just a digital approach but that your firm itself become a digital enterprise.