Today the industrial sector is faced with an increasingly competitive market, especially since the arrival of innovative technological solutions, the transformation of the commercial relationship and ever-changing consumption patterns.
The key challenges when it comes to industrial digital transformation include producing more efficient and varied products, increasing productivity by shortening delivery times and optimizing manufacturing costs, as well as improving profitability by optimizing the time-to-market. Digital transformation is becoming a strategic priority for this business sector. Integrating digital technology into a production chain requires numerous and profound transformations of the organization, both in terms of its business activities and its products and services.
The key factors to the digital transition
Digital and Data:
In order to monitor production lines quickly and efficiently, manufacturers must collect, analyze and process data to succeed in their digital transformation.
The digitization process should be present at every level of production, creating a truly connected factory based on the latest technologies. Indeed, the digitization of engineering data is a perfect example of the digital transformation (from digital mock-up designs to augmented reality right down to 3D printing). Other examples include the integration of PLCs, drones and collaborative robots in the production process of the industrial sector.
Innovative software, mobility, autonomy and digitalization are all key aspects put forward by the Volkswagen Group in their new Accelerate strategic plan. This plan is spearheaded by “Trinity”, a vehicle that will be unveiled in 2026. The objective for the car manufacturer is to reduce certain production costs, improve its profitability and implement a new business on the entire life cycle of vehicles through the use of data. The Volkswagen Group is clearly aware of the rapid acceleration of the global digital transformation and is integrating it into its vehicles. Volkswagen is also looking to improve their digital customer experience.
Digitalization of industrial tools and processes
The digital transformation of companies in the industry sector also involves the digitization of processes such as order reception, manufacturing, delivery and stock management. Furthermore, it also affects the provision of a centralized information system to have a shared knowledge base and resources at all times, whatever the department (be it the design office, workshops, sales or after-sales services).
The use of collaborative platforms enables cooperation and a rapid exchange of information between the various players and co-construction within the company.
The digitalization of industrial products
We are living in a connected world today where most of the products and services (be it connected cars, Smart TVs, etc.) are designed to collect and transmit data. This data collection allows companies to strengthen their understanding of customers, to identify consumer preferences and consumption patterns, and consequently to improve the performance of their products and services. Thus, creating a real value chain and a co-creation system.
Moreover, with the Cloud, analytical tools and Business Intelligence which are all gathering a huge amount of data, the industrial sector is doubling down on the performance and quality of products and services rather than on price competitiveness.
The digitization of customer relationships
Thanks to the digitization of customer relationships, companies are able to optimize their interactions with customers by offering a global and reliable vision. Be it from the choice of the offer (choice and personalization of products) to the processing of the order (manufacturing follow-up, delivery follow-up) or the delivery of the product (transmission of usage data). This can be adapted, whatever the distribution channel (B2B, B2C, B2B2C) and the key players involved (suppliers, partners, resellers, customers).
Digital trends to watch
- The rise of AI:
Artificial intelligence (AI) has impacted the industrial industry with machine learning and deep learning technologies used in multiple applications to modernize production processes.
According to a study conducted by Accenture, by 2035, AI will be able to increase profitability by an average of 38% and boost the gross value added (GVA) by +$14 trillion. In addition, research conducted by MuleSoft’s Connectivity Benchmark predicts a 95% growth in AI adoption in the next two years. Notably, 42% of manufacturing companies are already using this technology to personalize their customer experience, to automate tasks, and to reduce the impact of subjective elements in decision making.
The first real applications of artificial intelligence are already being used on a daily basis in industrial sector, including voice recognition for simple tasks, detection of environments using cameras, laser beams and X-rays as well as virtual assistants in logistics.
Siemens, the German multinational conglomerate and the largest industrial manufacturing company in Europe, for example offers several service solutions with digitalization. For example, they apply digital solutions to predictive maintenance, but also to engineering and quality control solutions via cloud computing solutions, such as MindSphere, and intelligent applications that help to continuously optimize processes in order to improve the efficiency and availability of machines.
Honda is another great example; they are marketing an SAE Level 3 autonomous vehicle that allows full delegation of driving to the onboard system in certain situations. When an autonomous vehicle is classified at SAE level 3, it means that the monitoring of the vehicle’s environment is the responsibility of the in-vehicle system and not the driver. However, the driver must remain attentive and be able to regain control at any time. Therefore, driving can be completely delegated to the machine, but only under predefined conditions. The system itself must be able to recognize its limits of use, i.e. when traffic conditions are no longer compatible with its functions.
- The Industrial Internet of Things
Industry players are increasingly using the Internet of Things (IoT), which offers an interconnection of unique devices within an existing Internet infrastructure.
The Internet of Things applied to industry, also known as the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), is bringing about significant changes in production, management, and communication. It is shifting enterprises to achieve several goals such as:
- Cost reduction
- Increased efficiency
- Increased security and traceability
- Compliance and product innovation
A growing number of companies are turning to the Internet of Things to reap the benefits. According to Accenture, IoT will contribute $14.2 trillion to global output by 2030. What is more, according to Markets & Markets, the global IoT market share (industrial and consumer) is estimated to reach $195 billion by 2022.
Microsoft, known by its IoT-related solutions for data processing and storage, has worked with Rolls-Royce (the world’s second-largest aircraft engine manufacturer, behind General Electric Aircraft Engines) to develop a predictive maintenance solution within the industrial sector. Thanks to this system, they are able to identify, in case of a repeated error, which aircraft has an anomaly and its source.
Schneider Electric has also proven itself when it comes to the IoT. They are the world leaders in electrical distribution and connected equipment. Their solution offers services ranging from connected objects to control tools. Their main benefits being to improve energy performance in buildings, industrial automation and remote monitoring of production lines, optimizing public energy networks or private microgrids, reducing costs in data centers and real-time management of electrical distribution systems.
In the IoT field, Samea innovation wants to stand out with the Sensoriis range by developing a multi-functional and multi-protocol connected sensor. It embeds a dozen functions in a single box, including humidity, temperature, but also gas, air quality and ambient light sensors. It can also activate certain equipment such as lighting and heating according to a company spokesperson. With this first multi-purpose sensor, Samea is targeting the smart home and smart building markets. Indeed, the product range is intended to be versatile and scalable: “We are working on other functionalities to address the industrial and food markets.
- 3D printing:
The principle of 3D printing is based on the superposition of layers of material according to XYZ coordinates (width, depth, height), transmitted by a 3D file. This enables the automatic manufacturing of very small or complex objects with a great level of precision.
The professional use of 3D printers:
A team of researchers at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich (ETHZ) in Switzerland has designed an exoskeleton, thanks to a 3D printer, for people who have suffered from a stroke. The objective of this exoskeleton is to help patients who go through a rehabilitation phase after suffering from a stroke. Especially as sometimes after a stroke, people can have complications and side-effects that disrupt their mobility. For example, they could have difficulty holding an object in the hands. This is where the exoskeleton machine comes in. It consists of an articulated hand, a sensor in the form of a bracelet and a backpack. When the user moves their hand, the sensors send electromyographic (EMG) signals to a computer in the bag. This data tells the engine to activate.
Google’s R&D division uses 3D printing to prototype its Jacquard connected textile technology. Google’s ATAP lab is using Stratasys PolyJet 3D printers to prototype the boxes used to connect a fabric with a smartphone. This has already been used in Levi’s jackets, backpacks and sneaker soles.
Singaporean company Osteopore has developed a 3D printing technique to design bioresorbable bone implants to repair badly fractured bones. For the first time, this device was implanted in a patient’s leg at the Maastricht University Medical Center located in the Netherlands. In order to repair a major bone defect, a CT scan must first be performed. This scan creates a digital model of the fracture that is the basis of the design of the fully customized, 3D printed implant. This implant consists of a polycaprolactone base, a biodegradable polyester and a calcium phosphate layer that is naturally present in bones and teeth, and capable of stimulating bone growth.
The U.S. Army will soon be able to print 3D parts in a matter of hours using a portable factory in a container, which ExOne has agreed to manufacture. Following up from this $1.6 million contract, the metal additive manufacturing company will develop a unique printer that works with more than 20 materials. It can be deployed directly in the field, be it on land, sea or air, to manufacture parts, help with disaster relief or other remote operations. This machine will be particularly fast and will be able to print parts “in less than 48 hours” without conventional tooling. By comparison, machined tooling to create parts typically takes 4-6 weeks.
- Cloud Computing
The Cloud is a real technological platform for controlling the distribution of information. Beyond the virtues of simplifying infrastructure management and reducing costs, the agility of the Cloud is a real asset for connecting factories and back-office businesses. For example, thanks to Cloud Computing, buyers and sourcing specialists can have easy access to data. The planning process is optimized and order flows are fully controlled. Furthermore, the Cloud will allow one to connect the consumer directly to the factory: the “Direct to Consumer” will enable deliveries in record time.
Microsoft and Bosch have just announced a partnership to develop a software platform to connect vehicles to the Cloud seamlessly. Ultimately, the two business giants wish to “accelerate and simplify” the deployment of such systems, which are seen as critical to the future of the automotive industry.
Digital transformation has marked a key shift in the economy. Indeed, the automotive and the electronics sectors are at the forefront of digitalization. Eventually, companies in the industry will be forced to integrate new technologies to adapt to the current market. For more information on digitalization, do not hesitate to contact us: https://eminence.ch/en/contact/