From the connected factory to the connected car, is the connected soft drink soon to follow?

Monday, March 13, 2017 10:00 am EDT



Raj Batra, President, Siemens Digital Factory Division, U.S.

On March 22-24, thousands of manufacturing executives will gather in Detroit at the Manufacturing in America Conference, sharing best practices that are helping to transform the industrial landscape.  Detroit is at the center of Internet of Things, where the entire automotive ecosystem is embracing modernization through advanced automation and digitalization – a best practice in itself that other industries are following.

Where the break-fix mentality has been part of the U.S. manufacturing culture for decades, we are now seeing entire production ecosystems depart from this pattern.  The scale of industrial production is large and a culture of slow, gradual change often sets in. However, companies are now viewing manufacturing as part of a long-term competitive strategy, where flexibility of “the process” allows them to gain a competitive advantage by being nimble and quicker to market, thus meeting customer expectations.  This merger of automation and digitalization is making the factory of the future a reality today.

Once again, automakers have set an all-time record for new vehicles in the U.S., selling 17.5 million cars and light-duty trucks.  Investments by foreign and domestic automakers are shaping entire regions of the country.  VW investing $900 million to expand its Chattanooga plant, BMW Spartanburg’s $1 billion plant expansion, soon to be its largest operation globally and even tire producer Michelin plans to optimize its industrial structures through automation technology to fully utilize the capacity of its industrial facilities, are all prime examples and best practices.

The automotive industry is at the leading edge of modernization in manufacturing, where man and machine work side-by-side, connected through a network of sensors that provide real-time data to ensure high levels of productivity, efficiency and safety across the entire manufacturing value chain.  Just a decade ago, product and production were separate, but today, the lifecycle of product design through software is integrated with product production on the manufacturing floor, thus ensuring a seamless process that significantly shortens time-to-market.  This advanced manufacturing is necessary to meet fast-changing customer demands (and expectations) for new driver and rider innovations. 

The connected car.  The fuel efficient car.  The safe car.  The reliable car.  The customized car.  These are not a thing of the future, it’s the present.  Today’s car is one with Wi-Fi, advanced infotainment systems and apps, vehicle-to-vehicle communication, and real-time maintenance and system monitoring for diagnostics and repairs – and it is here today.  Advanced manufacturing is the only way the automotive industry can meet this high demand and high customer expectation.

And other industries are taking notice. 

In a soon-to-be-published research project conducted by Longitude Research on behalf of Siemens, the study noted that amongst food and beverage companies, 50% have adopted additive manufacturing (3D printing) and connected sensors in plant operations, 60% have used digitalization to add new revenue streams from the provision of services such as track and trace, while two-thirds are encouraging suppliers to provide them with data from their operations and production processes, improving supply-chain visibility and creating new opportunities to drive efficiencies.1 

Yet, despite this progress and enthusiasm, there is room for improvement, specifically in advanced analytics.  Less than half of the food and beverage executives who responded to the survey are using advanced data analytics and more than 70% have a lag of more than 24 hours between data collection and analysis.  Digitalization is helping overcome the barriers in food and beverage production, from uptime, higher productivity and lower inventory to satisfying both regulators and customers.1

As with automotive and food and beverage, the U.S. industrial base should not hesitate to upgrade its aging manufacturing infrastructure – much of which is decades old.  Scalability can put you on a path to modernization – taking a holistic approach from the design of your product through the manufacturing process.  It’s not too late to enter the digital era, and this does not require a rip and replace strategy.  Companies will take different approaches to digitalization, and there is no single blueprint for the journey.  Most companies can’t afford to modernize their operations overnight, but the key is to start somewhere.  Companies quickly understand that early adopters of this approach have a competitive advantage.

These best practices in manufacturing are fast becoming the norm, and I look forward to hearing more success stories at our 2017 Manufacturing in America Conference.  I hope you can join us in Detroit!