The process for digitalization is different for discrete manufacturers compared to process manufacturers. In a recent Smart Industry article, COO of Electro Soft Inc. and 2019 Influential Women in Manufacturing honoree Karla Trotman comments on the challenges and pay-offs associated with digitalization in discrete manufacturing, as well as her own experiences as a discrete manufacturer of electronics.
In the article, Trotman explains that collecting new digital tools and toys isn’t always easy. “One issue is the price of smart manufacturing products,” she says. “They require a huge capital investment and the payoff period can be hard to predict in a custom environment.”
Additionally, Trotman notes that, as a custom manufacturer of electronics, she has to break down the manufacturing setup for each assembly. “We have been able to get the procedures down to a science where we can employ many of the same techniques. Machine programming, however, will always take time.”
Manufacturing-as-a-service is nudging discrete manufacturers across the digital divide to enable shorter innovation cycles and quicker time-to-market. Trotman notes that this is true of her company and has resulted in several benefits.
“As a discrete manufacturer, digital transformation has allowed us to streamline our work flow from receipt of order to shipment,” says Trotman, who notes other digitalization benefits including enhanced traceability and a speedier identification of redundancies and inefficiencies that enables better utilization of resources.
Along with these efficiencies, her team is investigating the value of cobots to provide assemblers a “third arm” while manufacturing complex assemblies. Trotman also notes an ancillary benefit of Industry 4.0—increased collaboration among competitors. “Rather than competing with our peers, we have looked to one another to solve our talent-pipeline issues,” she says. “Technology road-mapping has become an important new tool to solve our people issue. It allows us to see the best direction in which to invest. Those of us who are embracing Industry 4.0 now are willing to work together to identify ways to grow and not get left behind as our industry evolves.”