Online shopping has profoundly impacted the traditional business model in the last few years, shaping it to one that is consumer-centric. Consumers these days expect to be heard, and have a say in the look and feel of the product. To keep up with the ever-changing consumer demands and online personalisation options, Mike Uskert, managing vice president at Gartner agrees that manufacturers these days “are required to design hyperflexibility into their production”.While production flexibility is important, production efficiency is just as vital to reduce time to market. Processes need to be optimised so that manufacturers can maintain a competitive edge over competitors in producing customised products more quickly. With manufacturing centered on consumers, it has become necessary for supply chains to be highly flexible and optimised to shorten the product development process.
Malaysia’s manufacturing climate
According to Nikkei Malaysia Manufacturing Purchasing Managers’ Index (PMI), factory output in Malaysia has shrunk for the past three months, since April this year. Malaysia’s manufacturing performance has also recorded lowered scores in components like output and suppliers’ delivery times.
In spite of this, Malaysia’s manufacturing sector has been and will continue to be a key driver of the country’s economy, with its electrical and electronics (E&E) exports expected to increase 5% this year. For Malaysia to remain one of the top exporters in the Asia Pacific region, it is imperative that they digitise their current infrastructure.
The digital age is rapidly taking over manufacturing supply chains, with Gartner predicting that 50% of the chief supply chain officers in global companies will design and manage supply chains that support digital business within the next three years. This refers to a “digital factory” where the whole value chain is completely digitised, allowing for the use of digital models, methods and applications to plan and design manufacturing facilities and processes. This is aided by specific software that optimises the interoperability of various process components or to develop virtual products for example.
A holistic approach
To reap maximum benefits, it is recommended that manufacturers adopt a holistic approach when digitising their workflows. After doing so, two key functions emerge: virtual production simulation and a tightly integrated system. They enable digital factories to reduce time to market and improve both production flexibility and efficiency.
Factories going digital allows for a standardised, integrated operating system based on consistent data management and uniform interfaces for hardware and software. All automation components like controllers and motor management can now function seamlessly in a single engineering environment, minimising engineering time. It also means problems can be detected and resolved quickly as the entire production process is monitored in real-time. This way, manufacturers not only ramp up its production efficiency but also reduce time-to-market.
A digital factory also enables the simulation of a virtual production line, where the required type, volume and placement of machines for a new production process can be determined. Simulations of a new production line are built upon real-time data to closely resemble the physical world. When the simulation predicts high success, the particular production design would have a potentially higher chance of swift implementation with minimal downtime. This also means that changing production lines is not only easier but also faster, and with lowered risks.
With today’s consumer-centric business approach, it has become highly important for manufacturers to enhance production flexibility and efficiency. Staying competitive now means being able to deliver goods quickly and being able to switch production lines swiftly. Automating workflows will equip manufacturers with the capabilities to adapt to rapid market changes and shorter product life cycles.
Adam Yee is the senior vice president & division lead of marketing/business development, electrical & electronics manufacturing, Siemens Malaysia.