Technology now has such a big influence on industry that it could be driving how manufacturing is being repositioned around the world. Alan Johnson writes.
MORE of an evolution rather than a revolution, many industry observers believe manufacturing is slowly redefining itself, and it is happening so slowly that most don't realise it is happening.
Rajiv Ghatikar, VP and GM of ASEAN/Australasia with Siemens PLM software, said the pace of new technology advancements is increasingly high and the interaction between humans and technology is ever more intuitive.
"In the near future, the global manufacturing sector will look nothing like it does today, with profound changes coming in products and the way they are designed and manufactured," Ghatikar told Manufacturers' Monthly.
He said manufacturers need to adopt digital as a fundamental strategy to realise innovation and gain a competitive edge
"For me manufacturing is driven by two forces; innovation and cost. Because if you can't make a product cost-competitively, someone tomorrow is going to make it cheaper than you can.
"And if you can innovate, appropriately, I think you will have the opportunity to outshine your competition."
Ghatikar pointed to the technology German manufacturers are using to innovate. He also mentioned that it is readily available to Australian manufacturers.
"Today German manufacturers are using the same software, using their IP to innovate in the same manner by developing new products and being more of a design company catering for manufacturing in other countries."
He said Australia could be one of those, where all the brain capital and the R&D is here, with the manufacturing occurring in a cost competitive environment.
"Traditionally production had to be very close to the brain, in the same location, so that it could influence production and be more effective, but that has changed.
"Today you can have technology that enables collaboration so seamlessly across locations and across supply chains that manufacturing is redefining itself.
"Software knows no boundaries regarding geography. It can penetrate through and enable users in any part of the world to do that. Many successful companies are already doing it," Ghatikar said.
He says Siemens is ideally positioned to help this development because of its wide range of technologies, including PLM.
"With products and business models and legacy positions changing so rapidly, whatever gave you a competitive edge five or ten years ago, may no longer give you any sustainable advantage unless you can continue to innovate.
"While technology is the enabler for that, you do need the people to have the foresight and the paradigm shift to embrace that.
Ghatikar said by realising innovation in this very fast changing world with the Internet of Things, cloud technology, and 3D printing, as well as expanding markets and production capabilities, the possibilities are endless.
"The key to innovation in today's complex world is adopting a strategy for digitalisation where the digital thread ties together all phases of the product's lifecycle.
"Siemens is delivering the Smart Innovation Portfolio to underpin this new environment and allow companies to realise their innovation."
The platform connects end users, where all the brains and the capital sit.
"They are working on intelligent, ever dynamic models, which are all about connecting and working collaboratively to produce innovative products.
Ghatikar said PLM is a great place for manufacturers to start the innovation journey. Manufacturers can start anywhere on the cogs of the PLM wheel, he noted.
"It could be in design, could be shopfloor production, could be in engineering, could be in change management, which ever part of the ecosystem they want, and then once they start, they can expand vertically or horizontally or whatever way to get the coverage of the entire PLM benefits to whatever process they are trying to influence.
"PLM doesn't have a start or end point, it's a continuance and our solutions cover a very wide spectrum," Ghatikar said.
According to Ghatikar, Australian manufacturers should be investing more in product design.
"Designers need to be able to translate an idea into a software model very quickly.
"Rather than pen and paper, the designer should be using a sketching tool to produce a design which can be used, then reused later. That is where a lot of the speed to market benefits arise.
Ghatikar explained that most of the cost of a product is influenced at the design stage.
"For example, 70% of the raw material costs of the product are intrinsically decided by how it is designed.
"A PLM tool can help designers put some parameters on an idea in terms of what it costs and the material consumption and how they can make it more cost effective and be more competitive," Ghatikar said.
When it comes to the future of manufacturing in Australia, Ghatikar suggested we look at what Singapore has achieved in recent years, using it as an example of how private enterprise and Government can work together.
"Like Australia, Singapore is a very expensive location to manufacture, and a very good comparison reference point. And like Singapore, Australia has a lot of highly skilled people, which a lot of other countries don't have.
He explained that the Singapore government has a large stake in shaping what the country does to become a 'smart' nation, which includes how intelligently the country wants to be connected and how the Internet of Things is shaping.
"It goes beyond manufacturing; it goes to the point where everything that has data can interact with someone or something else to make the whole system more efficient."
"To start, the government wants companies to come up with platforms that enable a 'smart' nation.
"For example, Siemens PLM Software is working with the Singaporean Government on a remanufacturing facility that helps manufacturers improve their environmental impact by re-using old components."
The Advanced Remanufacturing Technology Centre (ARTC) is the first in Asia dedicated to testing and developing technologies that can give a new lease of life to parts that might otherwise be discarded.
It involves finding ways to extend the life of a product by restoring or improving its components, which is a more sustainable and affordable approach than making new products from scratch.
Ghatikar explained that remanufacturing is all about recycling something at the end of its life in terms of its components.
"Where companies take the components, not the finished product, and put it back into the production system."
Ghatikar said Singapore believes this is important for a number of reasons; companies save on material and manufacturing costs, plus they already have something that worked.
"They can also learn from its lifecycle data on how it served its part, and use that information to make it more effective."
Ghatikar said it's 30 to 40% cheaper to introduce that product back into the lifecycle of another product, than to start with raw material and making it again to new specifications.
"As well as much cheaper, the part has intelligent data with it that can be used to prevent those same issues in the next journey that it undertakes," he said.
The Singapore government is sponsoring the project, with Siemens PLM Software and other companies supporting them over a five year term.
According to a recent report by Global Industry Analysts (GIA) the automotive remanufacturing market alone will reach a staggering US$104bn this year.
Ghatikar said the long-term project is just one example of what the Singapore government is doing to be a 'smart' nation and an example of how manufacturing is reinventing itself.
For Australia, Ghatikar said it's the responsibility of government and private enterprise to jointly define their roles and play to whatever the local industry requires.
He believes the food industry is one area the Australian Government and private enterprise could explore.
"Australia has an abundance of land, and while much of it is not productive today for a number of reasons, I think there is an emerging trend that the food industry could be Australia's next hot spot on an otherwise difficult economic landscape.
"Australia presently produces some of the best wines, cheeses and dairy products in the world. What is needed is a paradigm shift and the capital to invest in that next frontier," Ghatikar said.