In a digital revolution, the only direction is forward
“What excites me the most about additive manufacturing,” says Brian Neff, “is that you can build anything you can think of. Anything you can design and put into a computer you can manufacture.” The Sintavia CEO’s perspective, which he shared on The Optimistic Outlook podcast (video at right), represents a new way of running factory floors using cutting-edge technologies—from additive tools such as 3D printers, to industrial automation, digital twin software, Industrial 5G, Internet of Things (IoT) services, and more.
U.S. manufacturing is part of the backbone of America’s economy and a provider of high-paying jobs for millions of workers. And in this featured podcast episode, and in the content below, you can learn more about how Siemens is working with customers to transform their business models, production, and sustainability efforts, while also helping to build the next-generation workforce.
Manufacturing in the future will demand sustainable, resource-efficient production and great flexibility combined with a high level of productivity. Industrial automation is crucial for meeting these requirements. But manufacturing in the future will demand sustainable, resource-efficient production and great flexibility combined with a high level of productivity. And as the world’s largest provider of industrial automation, Siemens is helping customers lead the way by deploying smart, autonomous machines and robots, cloud computing, and distributed I/O systems to create a fully automated, customer-oriented manufacturing process.
Industrial automation is not just a way to respond to the multiple changes affecting American manufacturing, but it is also a method to manage and actively shape change itself. Innovations such as artificial intelligence (AI) are already being gradually integrated into manufacturing, to work effectively with smart machines and robots. Transformative opportunities for manufacturing optimization will come when these smart systems become fully capable of anomaly recognition, preventive maintenance, autonomous handling of unfamiliar objects, improved product availability, and quality assurance.
As virtual commissioning became a standard during the pandemic, multiple benefits became quickly apparent. Increased adoption of advanced simulation and digital-twin software is helping improve the manufacturing process for companies globally. Over 90 percent of the industrial Fortune 500 use Siemens software to master complexity of their products and turn that into a competitive advantage, in industries ranging from automotive to pharmaceutical to food and beverage to aerospace. The Siemens Xcelerator software portfolio includes advanced capabilities for digital twins, product-lifecycle management, product-, plant-, and process-design modeling and simulation, Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), and much more.
For example, virtual commissioning has become a preferred approach for many manufacturers. It enables them to build a virtual factory and run entire manufacturing lines before ever having to bring expensive materials on site. Siemens comprehensive digital-twin software can also be used for detailed performance comparisons, resulting in a highly informed start to the product’s life cycle, translating into greater performance and smarter maintenance—and significantly increased value and profitability for manufacturers.
During the pandemic, we used our software to create a digital twin of an open-source ventilator design. That got us thinking: What if we used digital twin technology to prepare for essential needs in a future crisis? Now we’re developing what we call a national strategic digital-twin reserve that enables government leaders and manufacturers to be ready for future emergencies and potential supply shortages by accessing a library of digital blueprints for critical items.
This would be transformative because that library would enable manufacturers to scale up production of key products rapidly without having to worry about design, because digital twin enables products to perform in the field exactly as planned, which is critical in a time of crisis. The digital twin strategic reserve eliminates the need for any prototypes, reduces total development time, and enables faster iterations in response to key decisions at multiple levels of leadership.
And as changes to essential products occur in real-time, in crisis mode, those changes can first be simulated using digital twin to assess how quickly they can be introduced and the results they bring. This enables a production methodology that stays efficient despite the highly demanding conditions of a major emergency.
While the U.S. economy was at full employment, manufacturers still had more than 500,000 open jobs. Last year, in the middle of the economic downturn and net job loss, the industry still had 460,000 open jobs. We now face a crucial need for an inclusive workforce development agenda that does not leave anybody behind and reskills workers for the digital transformation happening now—and which will only accelerate over the next five years.
One thing we know for sure in a world reshaped by the pandemic: Manufacturing’s priorities are now national priorities—starting with the creation of tomorrow’s workforce.
Additive manufacturing—together with machine learning and automation—enables manufacturers to reinvent the factory floor to attain new levels of agility, efficiency, and creativity. Additive manufacturing creates, layer by layer, highly precise pieces and parts through computer-aided design (CAD) or 3D object scanners, in complete contrast to traditional, subtractive processes that uses machining to carve shapes out of different materials.
Manufacturers can also use additive manufacturing to redesign their entire supply chain, precisely creating the prototypes of the parts they need, reducing expenditures for shipping, maintaining inventory levels, and managing waste. Lean manufacturing, the just-in-time production near the end user, enabled by additive manufacturing will change the supply and sourcing landscape. That can be good news for controlling environmental impact, and it will ultimately help manufacturing’s bottom line.
Data is the lifeblood of the manufacturing transformation. Nothing is improved without it. That is why more and more manufacturing operations are networking their machines, production lines, and factories—this networked world communicates with itself and collects data. The raw data is processed to derive new information. Value is created as soon as the information is used to make a modification. For manufacturing, data generates value on multiple levels.
By networking of all parts of the supply and production chains, production can be optimized and instantly adapted to new requirements including the production of customized products (batch size one) at competitive prices. Product quality can be monitored while in production. Data on poor performance can enable maintenance before an equipment fail. Real-time information about energy use can plug leaks, reduce waste, smartly store energy, and promote sustainability.
Manufacturing knows that nearly all future production will occur in smart factories. These places will have mobile robots working in production, autonomous vehicles in the transportation and logistics sectors, industrial internet of things (IIoT), and augmented reality applications for service and maintenance technicians. But all these applications would quickly push today’s networks to their limits. That’s why Industrial 5G is essential to transforming manufacturing.
The unprecedented reliability, extremely low latencies, and comprehensive IIoT connectivity of industrial 5G can clear the way for pioneering applications in the manufacturing environment. The switch-over to 5G will be a milestone on the path to Industry 4.0, in which smart factories become more flexible and productive thanks to end-to-end digitalization and the IIoT. 5G is 10 to 20 times faster than today’s LTE and consumes only one-thousandth of the amount of energy per bit transferred—think what that could mean for smaller manufacturers who seek automation and digital-twin capabilities but don’t have big-org budgets.