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How digital transformation improves productivity in manufacturing

By Alex Walker and Arnd Simon, Senior Directors, Industry Services, Global Manufacturing Practice, Microsoft Corporation; Contributor: Dr. Lei Liu, Digital Advisor, Microsoft Deutschland GmbH on May 5, 2017

Filed under Discrete Manufacturing

Manufacturing has never been more competitive.  Cost pressure, quality control, customer relationships, production and supply networks—these are some of the challenges you face in today’s global market. And the list doesn’t end there. Your brand is at stake every time you encounter:

  • Unforeseen breakdowns that stop the assembly line.
  • Frequent service disruptions that inconvenience customers.
  • High maintenance costs due to repeat visits.
  • Lack of insights into potential product deficiencies.

These are the stuff of nightmares for many manufacturers.

But not everyone is losing sleep.

Smart platforms: The foundation of a manufacturing Industry 4.0 model

Agile digital manufacturers are able to make use of smart production platforms and give their employees access to tools and knowledge that let them work more effectively and increase productivity. So they don’t have to lose sleep.

Digital transformation brings together every system, device, process, and asset across the organization using a smart production platform. By harnessing all the data at your disposal, you too can deliver the right expertise, at the right time, to produce higher-quality products more efficiently.

That is the vision of the manufacturing Industry 4.0 model.

Smart platforms combine the eight “value drivers” in your three operational areas: manufacturing (supply, inventory, demands, processing and quality), facilities (infrastructure and machinery/assets), and human resources (workforce). Each value driver represents a formerly disparate function in the company.

By integrating these siloed functions through a smart production platform, employees can learn from past mistakes, implement changes proactively, and increase productivity. A smart platform makes all of these changes possible, raising productivity to new heights.

Of course, digital transformation requires a cultural change too. To become a customer-centered manufacturer, you also need a more iterative design process. Changes in your underlying design process and culture go hand in hand with a smart platform to increase manufacturing productivity.

One scenario: Digital transformation in automotive manufacturing

Automotive manufacturers have begun using smart production platforms to reimagine how they build and deliver cars. Here’s one scenario:

Hybrid (indoor/outdoor) navigation services and autonomous transportation systems are changing the way that manufacturers move parts and people, both inside and outside of the factory. Using hybrid navigation capabilities, you can pinpoint parts and assets in real time. Such systems then deliver 2D or 3D location information anywhere in the plant. This capability allows you to create an overview of points of interests inside the plant and use it to guide people to the exact place they want to go using the safest routes.

In addition, automotive manufacturers that use automated transportation systems can move parts as well as cars, within and between plants. The systems can quickly locate assets for maintenance, ensure near-time supply of parts for production, and improve worker safety. These applications (or “use cases”) ultimately deliver greater value to the company. They allow a manufacturer to reduce downtime on production lines, increase productivity, and reduce working capital in inventory holding.

Your partner in digital transformation

You need to evolve to meet the changing needs of customers and capture new business opportunities. We are here to help. Our advisory services can help you strategize digital scenarios, develop use cases, and build a smart production platform to increase your productivity and grow your business.

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