Embrace the digital plant to build a bridge to the future

Siemens officials call digital manufacturing ‘do or die’ in pushing for faster adoption at their automation summit in Florida.


Raj Batra, president of the Siemens digital factory division at the opening ceremony of the 2017 Siemens Automation Summit, spoke about the digital factory and its benefits for companies. Image courtesy: Mark T. Hoske, Control Engineering, CFE MediaDigital manufacturing has moved beyond the hype to become essential to production's future.

"Companies now understand they have to embrace digitalization. It's a do-or-die thing," said Raj Batra, president of the Siemens digital factory division at the opening ceremony of the 2017 Siemens Automation Summit in Boca Raton, Fla., on June 27. "What this means for us is taking billions of intelligent devices and creating a bridge between digital and real world to increase value."

Despite the established potential to improve operational efficiency and to lower production costs, Batra said the adoption of digital manufacturing hasn't yet caught up to the potential.

"Many people have started, but the pace isn't fast enough, especially in small to mid-sized manufacturers," Batra said. "In some cases, it's a capital issue. Some people just don't know where to start. Some are just missing the boat."

Making the case for digital manufacturing requires plant leadership to understand that change is not just inevitable. It's essential.

"Companies large and small understand they have a lot to gain, and they understand the risks of betting on the status quo," Batra said. "These are transformative changes. If you are not disruptive, you are going to be disrupted."

In a data-driven environment, Batra cited two sets of data to make his point. On the one hand, there are expected to be 1 trillion connected devices by 2030, and the digital economy will encompass 25% of the world's economy by 2020. While half of the world's data was created in the last year, Batra noted that, "Industry hasn't kept pace with what we see in the consumer world."

On the other side, those companies that haven't changed have become the dinosaurs of the economy. Batra cited a figure that more than half of the Fortune 500 companies in 2000 no longer exist.

One of the biggest reasons for this is a lack of speed. "When we think about digitalization, time to market is the single biggest advantage. It's the most important driver of industry," Batra said. He added cultural transformation as another key change. "It's not just about capital; it's about culture. Those silos and walls and barriers are being broken down."

In touting Siemens' solutions for creating an interactive process spanning design, production, engineering, and services, Batra noted maintenance would be a key area of change in the overall drive to production efficiency.

"In the past, 90% of our time was spent diagnosing the problem, and 10% of the time to fix it. We're going to flip that."

The other major change for the future is using a digital twin of the production process to allow plant managers to simulate and troubleshoot production before the first product goes into the assembly process.

"We have to be able to model the entire design production process and create a perfect digital copy," Batra said. "If we can simulate and virtualize, we can control the physical plant behavior. It's possible to simulate how all the key elements interact before committing resources."

Bob Vavra, content manager, Plant Engineering, CFE Media, bvavra@cfemedia.com.

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