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Digitalisation: the writing is on the wall

10 February, 2020

Gambica’s sector head for industrial automation, Nikesh Mistry*, uses the example of a pen as an analogy to illustrate the benefits that digitalisation can bring to manufacturing.

This month, I would like to bring the idea of digitalisation to the forefront of your minds – if it isn’t already. It’s about time we got our heads out of the clouds – with the pun most certainly intended. Digitalisation is very much unremitting and present in every sector, within every industry, for companies of all sizes.

At the end of last year, Gambica held our first digitalisation forum where members were able to congregate and discuss not only how digital processes are already being implemented in industry, but what more can be done to promote the return-on-investment of digitalisation which, in turn, would encourage more companies to adopt it. 

 

While many interesting ideas were formulated, the fundamental objective of the forum became apparent: “How do we encourage manufacturers to start this journey – where does it begin?” It was established that for each company in each sector, there is a varied requirement for digitalisation and, in return, a diverse reward. But one common denominator was: How do you quantify the value of digitalisation? If we can do this, then a justification to begin the journey is shaped. 

Let’s use a metaphorical example of a pen representing a manufacturing process. What would “digitalising” a pen enable us to achieve? Firstly, an increase in both productivity and diversity. A digital form of a pen would have the ability to write in multiple fonts using multiple colours, simultaneously. “Simultaneously” is the key word here because an actual pen can only write one thing at a time. Can you see where I’m going with this?

Next, and arguably inherent to all applications, is the need to keep the cost low. With a digitalised pen, you’d be able to store, create, and view multiple pens after a digital twin of one had been created. Thus, reducing storage space, restocking, and equipment management costs. That’s three different costs which could be kept lower simply through digitalisation. 

Subsequently, if a pen ran out of ink, or the nib broke, this would be what we’d call the “downtime” of the pen. Having a digital version would allow downtime to be reduced because the platform would allow us to foresee this breakage and learn from previous breakages which could, in turn, reduce the frequency of this occurring. 

Finally, a digital pen could be stored with encrypted cybersecurity, which could prevent access to your pen by others, or the opportunity to duplicate your pen. A physical pen could easily be picked up and put in the wrong pocket or be misplaced – digitalisation would prevent this and add a higher degree of traceability. 

With these outcomes assessed, the initial costs are diminished, providing that sought-after return-on-investment. If significant benefits are achieved from simply digitalising a pen, can you envisage the scope of benefits from digitalisation within your manufacturing process? 

Improved productivity, efficiency, reduced costs and minimalised downtime have been mentioned, but these benefits are by no means exhaustive. A reduction in the need to remanufacture products could improve your carbon footprint and a level of cybersecurity can aid to protect your assets on a far greater scale.  

If we begin with the early process stages, we can start to reap the benefits of digitalisation. Start by making those analogue devices digital. A drive which is present in almost every machine could be digitalised for a small initial cost, but it could generate a gateway of opportunity. This is how I imagine the journey begins, yet this is only my view.

Why not discuss your thoughts on digitalisation at the next Gambica forum? If you would like to hear other opinions or tell us about the steps you’ve already taken to move towards this digitalised world at one of our forums, then please contact me using the number or email address below. 

 

* Gambica is the trade association for the automation, control, instrumentation and laboratory technology sectors in the UK.

For more information, please contact Nikesh Mistry on 020 7642 8094 or via nikesh.mistry@gambica.org.uk




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