Industry 4.0 Part 2

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Our Insight video series will help you master digital manufacturing.

Every Friday we’ll post a new video – each one giving you a deeper Insight into how to design better parts. We’ll cover specific topics such as choosing the right 3D printing material, optimising your design for CNC machining, surface finishes for moulded parts, and much more besides.

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Insight: Industry 4.0 Part 2


Hi. It’s Friday and time for another Insight video.  And you can’t really get any more insightful than Industry 4.0, which is what I’ll be talking about this week.

I’ll explore how it is transforming our factories and share some real examples of how different companies are using it.

So, diving straight in, Industry 4.0 and the whole industrial internet of things revolution is about more than smart gadgets and intelligent machine tools.  Where it is really making inroads is in digital manufacturing.

Now I’m not just throwing meaningless phrases at you here.  Digital manufacturing is all about linking every aspect of manufacturing from product design to factory layout to customer feedback after delivery.  It creates a digital thread that breaks down the information silos held between different software systems and ties them together.

It includes 3D CAD modelling and visualisation, design for manufacturability analysis software, custom aided manufacturing, computer integrated manufacturing and shop floor data collection systems.  Properly integrated this tangle of software provides a digital thread of information running from product concept, through design, prototyping and manufacturing and then back again to design.

For real efficiency it also brings in other threads from the organisation such as supply chain sourcing, logistics, warehousing, and financial systems.

But in Industry 4.0, these systems do far more than swap data, they remove most of the human management. Automation is a big part of Industry 4.0, but it’s more the sense of joining everything up into a coherent whole.  It’s about ripping down the silos and getting the systems working together.

Change can be difficult, none of us like it and there is always the fear about getting it wrong, which for production can be disastrous.

So how do you change the industrial infrastructures and processes in your company? It must start from the top, if the production director and managing director don’t believe in it, then forget it.  

You need to get people thinking differently.  You need to collaborate with employees, customers and even competitors to see the status quo.  When you know what that is, chuck it away and start again.

Get digital savvy suppliers involved and learn from them so that you can leverage some of their nimble tactics and data driven manufacturing techniques to improve your own digital prowess. 

 Here are some examples of companies who have embraced this digital future.

Just to show that we do more than talk the talk my first example is us, Protolabs – but don’t worry I I’ll keep it brief.

Back in 1999 our founder Larry Lukis started his new rapid manufacturing business.  He knew that he had to automate the process, but probably not in the way that you think.  He wanted to reduce the upfront time needed for complex quoting, mould design and toolpath programming.

There was no software about that could do this, so Larry and his team developed their own.  Later, in 2007 they decided to bypass their ERP based system and develop a system with digital manufacturing awareness.  The result was an integrated part quoting and toolpathing system that was automatically shared with the production floor. 

This has evolved over time, but it has reduced manufacturing costs, increased throughput and given our management the data they need to make better decisions.

My second example is Aerospace giant Pratt and Whitney.  It revamped its various configuration management systems into a single unified CAD driven data management solution from Siemens.  As a result, it decreased its product development costs by a massive 75 percent.

And my third example is a furniture manufacturer Swerve who joined forces with its machine tool vendor and Siemens to improve integration between its PLM and CAM system.  Again, the results were staggering, the business grew, and they found that they could better handle close tolerance work.

Now I could go on and talk about GE Electric, Okuma corporation or any number of other companies who have looked at their business and created that digital thread, but I think that you get the idea.

And this is not just the latest fad, if we don’t keep up then we will be overtaken by our competitors.

Let me leave you with some staggering facts.  Figures from the consulting firm CIMdata show that digital manufacturing can improve time to market by 30 percent, reduce process planning and equipment costs by 40 percent and increase overall production throughput by 15 percent.

If that’s not enough the 2018 the industry led Smarter Review points out that digital manufacturing could be worth up to £455 billion to UK manufacturing over the next decade.

Impressive stats? It certainly makes you stop and think.

Thanks for joining me, have a great weekend and I’ll see you again next week.




With special thanks to Natalie Constable.

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