Insight  Siemens

Digitalisation Changes Everything

Alan Norbury, industrial CTO at Siemens UK, explains how manufacturers can achieve productivity in mass customisation by harnessing the power of digitalisation.

Digitalisation changes all areas of our lives: The way we stay informed, the way we travel, the way we buy things, and the way we manufacture products. Digitalisation is also changing business models; the pace of innovation and the ability to disrupt are becoming key success factors in global competition. Digitalisation is putting increasing pressures on manufacturers as there’s an expectation from consumers for products to be designed and manufactured to individual requirements.

The automotive industry is a great example of ‘mass customisation’, where every car is manufactured to customer specifications. The amazing thing is that each customised car is produced on the same production line as everyone else’s customised car!

The demand for customisation will cross all sectors, from electronics to food & beverage to construction. One of the most exciting sectors, impacting all our lives, is pharmaceuticals, where the vision of personalised medication is already underway.

Today if you were to visit a doctor’s surgery with an ailment, irrespective of weight, gender, size and so on, the doctor will generally prescribe the same medication for a common ailment. In the future treatments will be customised to potentially match individual DNA, and possibly also be a combination of medications combined into a single tablet.

This trend creates a number of challenges for manufacturers:

How do you mass customise at the same speed and quality as mass production of the past?

What technologies and processes will be key to enabling mass customisation?

Will mass customisation have an impact on productivity?

Achieving mass customisation in manufacturing

There’s a general perception that increasing productivity is all about making more products with fewer people. Well, that’s not necessarily the case. Increased productivity can also be achieved by increasing product value and customisation to meet individual consumer demands as a way of increasing value.

Mass customisation requires the product to define its own destiny and inform the machine or process what is to be done to it, as opposed to the traditional way of manufacturing where the machines take control of the product. Raw materials will need to have a form of identification, for example RFID, so that the manufacturing process or machines know which product they are dealing with.

To achieve mass customisation the processes and machinery need to be very flexible and adaptable to work with the expectation of the product.  

Virtualisation has already proven itself as a great tool for accelerating innovation cycles, the ultimate vision being zero physical prototyping – in other words, all the prototyping is completed in the virtual world."

Adapting machines and environment to suit the product will require accelerated innovation cycles, so that a change in customer demand can be accommodated throughout the manufacturing process without delay.

Virtualisation has already proven itself as a great tool for accelerating innovation cycles, the ultimate vision being zero physical prototyping - in other words all the prototyping is completed in the virtual world. Any changes can then be quickly made, modeled and tested in the virtual world before producing the physical equivalent to the digital twin.

Big data, if filtered and managed in the right way, will be key to optimising customised manufacturing processes, increasing quality and reducing downtime. Big data from the manufacturing process could ultimately be fed back into the virtual model to ensure any changes to the product design can be accommodated in the manufacturing process. Systems that have the ability to close the loop on the digital twin as a product is being manufactured are often referred to as cyber-physical systems.

Getting ready for Industry 4.0

In essence, what I’m trying to describe is effectively the underlying principles of the fourth Industrial Revolution, also known as Industry 4.0.

Industrial organisations across the globe are trying to address the challenge of digitalisation. Siemens is also on this journey, a journey which is absolutely essential for any organisation trying to remain globally competitive.

Although Siemens is one of the few global companies whose technologies span the width and breadth of Industry 4.0, we are also a key UK manufacturer, having 14 manufacturing facilities in the UK alone.

Siemens as a UK manufacturer realises that we need to embrace and invest in digitalisation. If the value is clearly understood and the principles correctly applied, digitalisation has the capability of increasing productivity and growth, reducing unemployment and ultimately contributing towards a globally competitive high wage economy.

About the author

Alan Norbury is the CTO for Siemens UK industrial activities, a leading global supplier of industrial plant and software, manufacturing automation and drive technologies to industrial customers across the UK and Ireland.

Since 2011 Alan has worked closely with the High Value Manufacturing Catapult Centres.

He is now Siemens Industrial CTO, dedicating his time to developing leading technology innovation to benefit Siemens UK's manufacturing facilities and Siemens' industrial customers.

Alan is a regular Industry 4.0 keynote speaker, sits on the IET Design and Production Sector Executive Board, Digital4Industry Leadership Group, Northern Robotics Network Advisory Board and the LCR4.0 Advisory Board.

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