Software Intensive Manufacturing – the Game Changer?

A manufacturing sector is a fundamental component to a thriving economy. However, here in Australia, we have been witnessing a steady decline and over the past five years close to 100,000 Australian manufacturing jobs have been lost.

An Australian Trade Commission report based on data from the IMF and studies by Deloitte rightly classifies Australia as a top notch destination for business and investment on a comprehensive list of parameters.

Before we start rejoicing though, the comparatively lower scores for the manufacturing industry indicate a worrisome trend.

The local manufacturing sector is facing increasing pressure due to high operating costs and competition from technologically advanced and export focussed nations such as China. Indeed, a lot is being said about the state of manufacturing and its future in Australia.

Most admit that there is a problem but seldom do we hear about why there is a problem and what we can do so solve it. Some even go on to ask if there is any future for manufacturers at all.

Recessions and slowdowns are a part and parcel of the global economy. Demand for finished and manufactured products can go up or down depending on various domestic and international factors.

Yet we know there will always be a need for manufactured products, whether it’s cars, mobiles, TV sets or aircrafts. Two primary reasons fuel the need for manufacturing:

1. Nothing lasts for forever (taxes aside) – presuming there is no change in technology and we continue to develop and manufacture the exact same things, there will still be need for it as equipment and goods as products reach their end of life. Of course, in such a hypothetical scenario the demand for quantity will be low and driven purely by product failures / end of life cycles.

2. Smarter, faster, cheaper and safer – innovation in manufacturing can be attributed mostly to these. As long as we want products and systems to be better, faster, cheaper, safer and more efficient, manufacturing is here to stay.

Having tackled the question of whether we need manufacturing or not, let’s move to the pertinent question of what we can do about it? Simple: As long as your unique selling proposition is a smarter, faster, cheaper and safer product, you will be in business.

So what makes today’s goods smarter, faster and better?

Technology has completely transformed products and systems in all sectors making them smarter as well as complex, primarily due to software. The moment you switch on your smartphone, for example, everything else after that is driven and controlled by software.

The future is going to be smarter and more complex and software-intensive products will rule the market. If anything can be automated, it will be. IoT is not hype predicted for the future, IoT has arrived and it’s about time we realise it.

Automating the production line to make industries more efficient is a step in the right direction but not enough in itself. From a traditional pure manufacturing perspective we need to shift our focus towards a blend of manufacturing and services providing high value technology enabled devices and products.

Pipes, moulds, cables and so on – all of which represent traditional manufacturing – are here to stay.

However, it’s time we realise that’s not what manufacturing is limited to. The need for better, safer and more efficient products and systems across the system engineering domain or mechatronics is the future.

The primary drivers for this transformation are end users who want smarter products. In other words, it’s about manufacturing, reinvented.

From low-tech commodity style production that may not be globally competitive, to advanced manufacturing where Australia's specialised knowledge and skills give us an advantage.

Together with economy-wide incentive mechanisms to boost investment, we need to streamline industry assistance and support manufacturers to invest in their own future by moving up the value chain.

As an example – a car is a network of computers on wheels with as many as 100 electronic control units driven by as many as 100 million lines of code. More than two-thirds of innovation in medical devices today is driven purely by software.

In the electronics and hi-tech vertical today, for every engineer, there are five software engineers. The need to manage software requirements, tests, software configurations, change management cannot be underestimated.

Whether it’s the medical devices sector, aerospace and defence, industrial equipment, automotive or electronics, they are all dependent on the “logical component” that drives these devices.

Earlier many software intensive manufacturers looked at managing embedded software code as a secondary priority. With the increased cost of manufacturing and realisation that software glitches are the top contributor to device recalls, the perspective is changing.

Discrete manufacturers today acknowledge the need to meet regulatory compliance standards using the right solutions to stay ahead of the competition.

Managing the embedded software residing in the heart of devices and products is no longer a “nice to have” option. Discrete manufacturers can stay profitable by managing their software intensive products and systems efficiently.

In addition to CAD systems for design, PLM for managing parts and components, we need to be able to manage the “logical part” or embedded software using ALM.

Using an integrated approach to handling mechanical parts, electronic and software systems, manufacturing companies can achieve increased revenue, drive innovation, decrease time to market and garner increased market share, staying ahead of the competition.

Bibek Banerjee is an award winning Customer Success Engagement Leader with 12+ years of international experience driving projects, leading people and shaping products. Bibek specialises in enterprise project delivery in the application lifecycle management, application performance management and gaming verticals. In his previous role he provided consulting services to engineering companies helping them manage embedded software. He is currently seeking new employment opportunities. Feel free to contact him via Manufacturers' Monthly or write him at bibekbanerjee@yahoo.com.

 

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