What Is Digital Manufacturing?

Digital manufacturing is an emerging system in which companies integrate intelligent automation and AI tools to centralize and streamline the manufacturing process. Our expert explains how it works.

Written by Roman Davydov
Published on Jul. 01, 2024
What Is Digital Manufacturing?
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Operating in the manufacturing market has never been more challenging, given fierce competition, high market volatility and labor shortage. Digital transformation, involving the use of manufacturing software solutions for optimizing critical industrial operations, is one of the key ways to address these complexities. According to IMARC Group’s recent report, the digital manufacturing market exceeded $500 billion in 2023 and is going to grow at a CAGR of 14.7 percent from 2024 to 2032.

In this article, we will cover the concept of digital manufacturing, describe its key elements and tools, and highlight its tangible benefits for businesses.

What Is Digital Manufacturing?

Digital manufacturing is an approach to production optimization in which companies adopt digitally enabled tools and related machine control software on a large scale and also integrate them into a unified computerized system. Such a system usually has a digital cloud platform at its core, enabling companies’ automated systems. With its help, manufacturers can centralize product design, production, final product maintenance, and all other manufacturing processes, resulting in more interconnected and optimized production.

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What Is Digital Manufacturing?

Digital manufacturing represents a more complex and coherent approach to production optimization. Companies shifting toward digital manufacturing not only adopt digitally enabled tools and related machine control software on a large scale but also integrate them into a unified computerized system. 

Over the past years, companies have been implementing digitally enabled tools (including adaptive CNC machine control systems, 3D printing or industrial robotics) to automate and optimize specific manufacturing operations. Not all of these businesses can be considered digital manufacturing companies, however.

A true digital manufacturing system usually has a digital cloud platform at its core, enabling companies’ automated systems, including shop floor control and business management software, to quickly exchange information. With its help, manufacturers can centralize product design, production, final product maintenance, and all other manufacturing processes, resulting in more interconnected and optimized production.

The transition to digital manufacturing also implies the adoption of emerging digital technologies, such as artificial intelligence, the Internet of Things, and robotic process automation (RPA). By combining their capabilities, manufacturers can employ intelligent automation, which helps further enhance production processes.

 

What Are the Key Elements of Digital Manufacturing?

Digital manufacturing has several key elements.

Connected Design and Production

By using IoT sensors, manufacturers can collect data about the characteristics and parameters of their products, including temperature, weight, and color, to create their digital twins. These virtual models of real objects allow engineers to conduct product simulations, test new design solutions quickly and at a lower cost, and collaborate with colleagues during the design phase.

Another technology, namely AI, allows production management solutions to analyze gathered information and make intelligent, human-like decisions. In particular, a computer-aided manufacturing (CAM) system can analyze a digital twin of an object to determine the optimal way for producing it, thus ensuring an accelerated time to market and advanced quality of the final product.

Connected Smart Factory

A smart factory is an interconnected and efficient production environment. Equipped with AI, IoT and other technological capabilities, smart factories can operate with greater speed, flexibility and accuracy than traditional ones.

Connected Value Chain

A value chain is a combination of all business processes that contribute to creating a final product, from raw material sourcing, design, and production to marketing, delivery, and post-sale servicing. By running a value chain analysis, a company can assess the value generated by each activity and determine its cost, which helps optimize manufacturing and make it more cost effective.

 

Why Switch to Digital Manufacturing?

The shift to digital manufacturing allows companies to achieve the benefits of the fourth industrial revolution. These include maximized performance, operational cost optimization, top product quality and enhanced decision-making.

Streamlined Manufacturing Performance

Digital manufacturing implies continuous optimization of manufacturing processes to increase speed and accuracy. This enables companies to build and deliver products to customers more efficiently than traditional manufacturing.

Optimized Production Costs

Complex digitalization, encompassing large-scale automation and a significant reduction in manual labor, helps companies reduce material waste and thus cut manufacturing costs.

Improved Product Quality

Close collaboration between industrial designers and engineers during the modeling stage and automation of quality control operations allow for the quick identification of product defects and issues, significantly enhancing the quality of the final product.

More Intelligent Decision-Making

Smart factories generate vast amounts of data via sensors and other connected devices, and this data, related to various production aspects, is easily accessible. Manufacturing managers can analyze the collected data to generate insights, helping identify and mitigate production bottlenecks.

 

What Software Eases the Shift to Digital Manufacturing?

The large-scale transition to digital manufacturing, involving end-to-end production optimization, can be challenging for companies, as it requires aggregating production data from many disparate business functions. Companies can start with stepped digital optimization of individual production aspects, using such types of software as:

Computer-Aided Design (CAD)

Computer-aided design (CAD) solutions enable designers to build 2D and 3D models, create products’ digital twins for testing and simulation, and collaborate with other designers and engineers. 

Computer-Aided Manufacturing (CAM)

Computer-aided manufacturing (CAM) tools help engineers transform digital models into physical products by providing CAD integration, automated tool path generation, and multi-axis machining features.

Product Lifecycle Management (PLM)

Product lifecycle management (PLM) software provides a product design library, version control, and cost-modeling functionalities, as well as a master database aggregating various product-related data, including CAD models, product specifications, and bills of materials.

Advanced Planning and Scheduling (APS)

Advanced planning and scheduling (APS) are automated tools that can generate and optimize production schedules, calculate optimal times for executing certain production orders, and transmit production order data to logistics teams with little or no human attendance.

Laboratory Information Management Systems (LIMS)

Laboratory information management systems (LIMS) standardize and automate operations in a company’s laboratory, from order processing and materials preparation to testing and report generation.

Manufacturing Operations Management (MOM)

Manufacturing operations management (MOM) software is an evolution of traditional MES solutions. It integrates all manufacturing processes (including production, quality control, warehousing, logistics, and compliance management) and makes them easier to monitor and manage.

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The Future of Digital Manufacturing

Manufacturers that aim to adapt to ever-changing market conditions and meet industry challenges, such as labor shortages or increased competition, continue to invest in digital transformation initiatives. The most future-oriented businesses are implementing sets of integrated technology solutions and information systems to accelerate the transition to digital manufacturing.

Digital manufacturing provides numerous business advantages, including advanced production efficiency, superb product quality, and reduced manufacturing costs. Such a complex transformation can be challenging, however. It requires a comprehensive digital transformation strategy, high initial investments, and, most importantly, outstanding technology knowledge and skills.

Professional software developers can share their tech expertise and guide your company throughout its digital manufacturing journey. The experts can help you define the right technology toolset, craft a cost-efficient digital transformation strategy, and deliver custom manufacturing software to streamline your shift towards Industry 4.0.

Frequently Asked Questions

The concept of Industry 4.0, formulated by doctor of economics and engineering Klaus Schwab in 2016, depicts the shift of the manufacturing sector towards full-scale digitalization and automation of industrial processes. According to the concept, the emergence of cyber-physical systems, IoT, and cloud computing technologies is the critical driver for this shift.

The term smart factory has multiple meanings. At the ideation level, a smart factory can be defined as the ultimate aim of manufacturing digital transformation, namely a digitalized and connected production environment. On a practical level, a smart factory represents a specific factory floor that applies integrated machines and technologies for end-to-end manufacturing optimization.

The value chain is the sequence of all steps required to build and deliver a product to the end consumer, from product ideation and design to material procurement and production. By mapping and analyzing its entire value chain, a manufacturer can easily inspect bottlenecks in its business processes and identify improvement opportunities.

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