Production innovation & actionable data, keys to success
Customers increasingly want smart, customised products with short delivery terms. To be able to meet this market demand, companies must thoroughly innovate their production systems. The cost-efficient incorporation of product variation in the production process is the key to success. Variability can keep production in Flanders and may even bring it back.
The digital transformation is realised on different levels but innovating efficiently is only possible if all areas are tackled simultaneously.
Product and production innovation are intrinsically linked with one another. Manufacturing a commercially successful product requires a cost-optimised production process. The lowest production costs are realised in highly innovative production environments, so-called “lead plants”. In such plants, business managers continuously assess the performances by collecting data on their products and production processes. These data are converted into actionable data and intelligence using artificial intelligence algorithms. This makes the production transparent and allows to realise improvements. It is with good reason that Big Data and AI were identified by businesses themselves as core technologies of tomorrow. Complex products easily find their way to these high-performance production environments. This makes technological investments profitable. As a result, the production costs in lead plants remain at an acceptable level – even in countries with high labour costs.
Personalised production asks for flexible production facilities. Digital technology plays a crucial part in this process. First of all, operators are connected with the central management system. This ensures that they receive the right information at the right time and enables them to adjust the production in real time.
Secondly, new product development methods become possible, based on the (digital) analysis and validation of variants. The product design costs can be decreased and the market introduction accelerated. Thirdly, the production process makes use of multifunctional robots, cobots and tools in modular work cells. As a result, changeover times can be minimised and be geared to the actual workload.
It is clear that the digital production shop is disruptive and may lead to new business models. However, to be future-proof, an adapted corporate culture is at least equally important. A flexible organisational structure, open communication and broad cooperation are indeed decisive factors for recruiting the young technical talents that our businesses need.
The insights from this column are the result of a comprehensive Industry 4.0 survey performed among Flemish companies by order of Flanders Make. The results were presented in detail during the Symposium on 26 November in Antwerp Expo. If you would have missed it, the next edition will take place on 24 November 2020. Check the website www.flandersmake.be as from June 2020.
Dirk Torfs - CEO
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