Conventional versus Digital Manufacturing

With rapid technological developments in the field of software, electronics, and automation, the manufacturing industry has witnessed widespread disruption in its operating processes. Traditional manufacturing techniques are being increasingly replaced with digital and automated processes. This change has not only come about as a natural consequence to technological progress but is also a response to the rising consumer demand and a need for more efficient manufacturing techniques.

Digital manufacturing is very different from traditional manufacturing techniques as it calls for automation of routine processes, greater connectivity of systems and equipment, automated work generation and scheduling, and decision-making based on data analysis.

Features of Digital Manufacturing

The central idea behind digital manufacturing is achieving higher process efficiency and productivity through computer-aided systems. Activities such as modeling, simulation, data analysis and automated tooling, which are not parts of conventional manufacturing provide optimization and lean operation capabilities. Hence, the main difference between conventional and digital manufacturing lies in the use of computer integrated systems and computer-aided design and analysis. A summary of the main features of digital manufacturing is mentioned below.

3D Modeling- 3D modeling uses design software to create three-dimensional representations of components that are to be manufactured. 3D modeling is also used for the planning of entire factory floors with clear visibility of the location of all the tools, sub-assemblies and conveyors. The main advantage here is the speed and flexibility over hand-drawn engineering drawings. Designers can choose to manipulate and change their designs in real-time.

Simulation-based Planning- After a product or factory layout has been successfully modeled, computer generations simulations are run to view a “demo” of the operations. During the simulation, faults and errors can be detected and can lead to further improvements in design. Simulations can also be run to view the performance of a particular process or tool.

Automated Tooling- Incorporating automation software and advanced control systems have given birth to computerized tooling solutions such as CNC (computerized numerical control). CNC involves coding in a program that decides the movement and cutting properties of the tool. The program also takes into account the dimensions of the job that is to be manufactured. Once the application is executed, the tool automatically begins cutting or manufacturing the component without the need for any human supervision.

Data-analysis Capabilities- In order to meet the growing consumer demands and combat the fierce competition of the modern marketplace, companies need to continuously monitor and improve their processes. Digital manufacturing technologies such as advanced sensors and automated data-analysis allow project managers to gain insight into the operational parameters. Through advanced data-analysis, automated reports can be generated which can illustrate possible avenues for development and improvement.

Advantages of Digital Manufacturing over Conventional Methods

Some of the significant benefits of digital manufacturing are mentioned below.

  • Greater connectivity amongst teams, systems, and processes
  • More agile operations and better optimization of resources
  • Standardization of processes and protocols leading to streamlined operations
  • Potential for easy scalability and continuous improvement of processes and product.

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