Technologies that can revolutionise business models in manufacturing

From blockchain to digital twinning: technologies that can revolutionise business models in manufacturing. By Terri Hiskey, Vice President Product Marketing, Manufacturing, Epicor Software.

In the future, the success factors that define winners from losers in an increasingly competitive manufacturing landscape will extend far beyond the ability to manufacture products.

With the appropriate infrastructure in place, manufacturers can deploy the modern software architectures and flexible interfaces that make it easier to test and implement Industry 4.0 technology innovations.

One such innovation is digital twinning. It will let engineers create virtual product prototypes and maintain virtual representations of these products, making necessary amendments to optimise business performance.

In the future, digital twins will be created in a wide range of contexts to serve a variety of objectives that will include driving leaner and more productive operations. For example, digital twins could be used to simulate an asset’s operations, emulating real-life conditions to enable enhanced predictive maintenance.

As manufacturing processes become increasingly digital, and smart connected technologies become more pervasive due to the Internet of Things (IoT), interactivity between the physical and digital worlds is set to grow. A recent Research and Markets report predicts that, by 2022, around 85 percent of all IoT enabled platforms will have digital twin functionality.

The growing trend towards digitally-networked supplier ecosystems means the demand for maximum transparency and security across the supply chain is gaining momentum. With companies coming under increasing scrutiny, and customer confidence a top priority, the ability to facilitate tamper-proof transactions and services is becoming increasingly important.

Blockchain creates a digital ledger of transactions using cryptography to manage secure access to the enterprise blockchain ledger. Once a block of data is recorded on the ledger, it is extremely difficult to change or remove.

Blockchain technology can revolutionise the supply chain, delivering the transparency, scalability, and enhanced security that makes it easier and safer for businesses to work together over the internet. When connected to an ERP system, this technology can also provide executives with real-time, robust data.

Similarly, artificial intelligence (AI) is set to transform manufacturing. Machine learning will test and learn from each iteration what works, and what doesn’t to improve production efficiencies, while AI-powered robots automatically identify issues.

AI empowers enhanced material purchasing and allocation decisions, and more accurately predicts delivery times and volumes. Predictive analytics and AI could reinvent capacity planning and achieve a more predictable performance.

Finally, as the IoT grows, human-machine interfaces (HMIs) are becoming increasingly sophisticated. Technologies like augmented reality glasses and voice recognition can transform production throughput and quality. Applications include step-by-step instructions, tool-selection guidance, or photographing, recording, and reporting quality issues.

Voice-driven technologies will eliminate the need for workers to juggle equipment in one hand while making inputs on a mobile device with the other, and improve communication between employees.

When linked with an extensive ERP system, voice-driven technologies can help improve decision-making. A smart ERP system can sync commands with internal systems to collect invaluable insights into how these are being actioned. Delivering this data in real-time makes it possible to pinpoint operation inefficiencies and focus on closing these gaps to increase output.

Manufacturers need to attain digital maturity to adopt advanced technologies, and gain real-time access to data and intelligence across the enterprise and beyond. The ability to integrate advanced new technologies with existing IT infrastructures will enable ERP to connect everything together and leverage cloud computing, the internet, cognitive computing, and robotics, to apply live data insights to production and on-demand consumption models.

Modern ERP systems are geared to deliver all this and more. Today’s systems are available flexibly in the cloud or as an on-premises solution, and designed to support the individual cloud strategies of enterprises striving for a digitally-connected future.