IMTS Insider

Product and Service Evaluation in the Digital Era

Category: Manufacturing Technology Oct 12, 2020

IMTS is different this year, and not just because of COVID-19 and its impact on supply chains. In the era of standard manufacturing technology, conversations between providers and customers are focused on the classic “Ps” of marketing:  product, price, performance, people, promotion, and place. Digital manufacturing technology changed that paradigm. As the IMTS community comes together through the IMTS Network and IMTS spark, IMTS suggests participants absorb information within the framework of “3 Es.”

  • Equipment – digitizing the physical product.
  • Ecosystem – encompassing every facet of digitization, including connectivity, interoperability, flexibility/agility, technology collaborations, and the digital thread.
  • Economics - monetizing data.

“Today’s technology conversations are much different than in the past. Instead of discrete products, almost everything works as part of a digital ecosystem,” says Tim Shinbara, CTO and Vice President of AMT – The Association For Manufacturing Technology, which owns and operates IMTS. “Even if a product cannot directly communicate data, data will be captured and used to prove value.”

If a product, process, or technology can be digitized, it will be—and the reason is that digitization enables connectivity and improves economics. For example, consider something as basic as tooling. With an RFID chip and QR code on the tool holder, the entire life of a tool can be tracked. The value delivered to the user can be known precisely and optimized for productivity, with data fed into product management lifecycle software. The cost of tooling might not be based on purchase price but on a combination of how many parts it cut and CNC uptime.

Digitization also enables greater agility. A fundamental example would be the effort required to alter a 2D print compared to modify a 3D CAD program. Taking that to the next level, consider how CAM software enables manufacturers to switch parts between machines in response to last-minute customer orders. Instead of spending hours trying to reprogram code, the manufacturer only needs to load a template that contains all the essential information about a particular machine’s capabilities. The metrology field has also embraced digitization, using 3D scanning to reduce inspection times to seconds. Manufacturers can overlay scan results on a CAD model. A color map can show how every single point on the part relates to where it’s supposed to be on the model, and the departure from nominal can be made explicit by a color scale. The generated data can also calculate tool offsets, reducing scrap rates.

Additive Manufacturing (AM) is the poster child for digital equipment, and no wonder it dominated COVID-19 news stories. In times of crisis—or  any period of volatile changes in customer demands and preferences—agile technology gives companies an advantage. As the saying goes, “If you can dream it, you can print it.” In general, success stories now making national news share a common theme of agility, showcasing a company’s ability to pivot from manufacturing one product to another.

Compared to the world of computers, IT networks and commercial business systems (which evolved together), manufacturing evolved separately. As a result, most controls and devices used proprietary communication technologies. However, manufacturing can no longer afford islands that speak different languages. AMT has been addressing this issue for more than a decade by fostering open standards that enable interoperability, such as MTConnect®.

“It’s not just equipment that contributes to digital manufacturing, but how machines work in the digital ecosystem of a factory,” says Shinbara. “We are at a point where connectivity is table stakes. It is the gateway to condition monitoring and the data capture and analysis that will drive key performance indicators and business metrics. Similarly, connectivity created the need for security of industrial data and intellectual property, opening new business opportunities.”

Moving beyond connectivity, Shinbara sees interoperability as another emerging theme. “We started to see this at the last IMTS show where digital manufacturing cells demonstrated the ability to manufacture a part where the process, the tasks, and the quality verification have all been automated. To achieve interoperability, I think you’re going to see more companies participate in consortiums and partnerships of solution providers throughout the whole life cycle of manufacturing.”

The digital thread and its associated subjects—the digital twin, the model-based enterprise (MBE), and model-based design (MBD)—are also gaining prominence as manufacturers recognize the value of a framework that connects data flow to produce a holistic view of an asset (product) across its lifecycle.

“Look for job shops and manufacturers to embrace CNCs or AM systems with COVID-19 disruptions also emphasize the need for the agility provided by digital solutions such as MBD, which describes a strategy where a 3D annotated model and its associated data elements fully define the product in a manner that can be used effectively by everyone in the value chain in place of a traditional drawing. This single 3D model contains all the information typically found in an entire set of engineering drawings, including geometry, topology, dimensions, tolerances, materials, finishes, and weld call-outs.

“Imagine how much faster suppliers could respond to the need for respirator and ventilator components if they could act from an MBD file without any additional communication,” says Shinbara. He adds that the concept of a “single truth”—the practice of structuring data so that every data element is mastered in only one place—is a topic AMT will explore in detail as part of its content.

Today, machines and components communicate, coordinate, and learn from each other. Bytes become data packets that turn into products that move through the supply chain, and the only common thread throughout the entire cycle is data.

Businesses, especially large corporations, fundamentally focus on three factors: cash flow/equity, product flow, and how they can drive more of both with fewer resources. The impact of product or service selection often involves a high degree of subjectivity, relying on intuition, experience, and supplier promises. The ability to capture, analyze, and monetize data changes the game.

“In the past, we had sales negotiations based on purchase price. In the future, we’ll have conversations on product performance within an ecosystem and demonstrated value delivered to the business,” says Shinbara.

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