From the Corporate “Black Box” to the Digital Factory

Table of Contents

For an industrial company to survive in the present day and age, it needs to be able to innovate constantly due to rapid technological change. Simulation tools such as a digital twin play a crucial role in this. Through the use of the Digital Twin, the Digital Factory enables more efficient development and planning phases in the area of the assembly line and factory planning as well as in the area of tendering procedures, right through to compliance in the area of employee onboarding. This is fundamental for every company.

Technological Change & The “Black Box” Stakeholders

Due to the increasing technological change in the industrial sector, there is a permanent improvement in daily operations. Product innovations are constantly driven forward in order not to lose touch or the pioneering position in the market. In addition, due to the increasing decentralization of multicultural companies, a new standard has to be created within the production processes so that the processes are accessible throughout the world. Even after the brief introduction, it can be seen that the technological change and the inadequate documentation are causing an ever-increasing gap in the area of ​​the documented status vs. the real execution. Since the current state is hardly manageable, the permanent change transforms a factory into a kind of “black box” for the stakeholders who, however, need up-to-date information. This lack of transparency is a major problem that affects many other factors.

Example: The degree of importance of information quickly becomes apparent when one thinks of the increasingly multinational organizational structure of companies. These often have centralized locations from which production in other countries is controlled. How is an assembly planner in Germany supposed to say unambiguously, based on invalid, poorly updated, or even incorrect information, whether a particular piece of equipment will fit into the building at a particular global location? How is the facility manager supposed to determine which machine is located at location X or how accessible it is for repair due to the high discrepancies of the existing data? Due to inconsistent information, stakeholders have to spend a considerable amount of time and effort on communication and, in the worst case, have to accept many international flights, which all in all leads to considerable additional expenses.

The End of the Black Box Era and the Digital Factory

The current state does not correspond in any way to a digital factory. Due to non-transparent processes and restructuring, the company often describes a kind of “black box” for the respective stakeholders. This is because there is still a large discrepancy between the documented data and the current status in reality. Against the background of Industry 4.0 and the New Work concept, more and more innovative solutions should be integrated between machines and the previous human-machine use cases.

The digitalization of your factory into a Digital Factory will remedy the current situation outlined above. So far, the Digital Factory has been effectively used by our customers in the following five areas:

1. The Digital Factory and Assembly Line & Factory Planning

The outdated procedures within assembly lines and factory planning result in high information losses. These information losses result in considerable communication and costs.

The Digital Factory can take assembly line and factory planning to a new level. This is because planning is based on standardized data and a system that all stakeholders can access globally. Potential planning can take place in a variety of virtual ways through the Digital Factory. Furthermore, on-demand planning is carried out through the point cloud and simulated within the Digital Factory. The realistic overview through the point cloud accurately reflects the current situation, so that the Digital Factory can be walked through digitally. Any problems that arise can be identified in this way. In addition, problems can be communicated directly via the Digital Factory platform. This means that the high communication effort is reduced to a minimum. In summary, this means that any form of planning can be made more efficient and of higher quality through the use of a digital factory.

2. The Digital Factory and Tendering Procedures

Currently, tendering processes take an unnecessary amount of time due to old templates with hundreds of pages. The status quo (RFP) in combination with a 2D layout and the integration of old photos of the factory represents an inefficient process, which is also optimized by the Digital Factory.

In this case, the Digital Factory also offers a solid alternative to conventional methods. Because through the Digital Factory and the use of the web-based viewers, there is no need to write long pages of potentially outdated 2D plans. Instead, an RFP link can be integrated that displays the current status and documents it through Point of Interests (POIs). This way, instead of exhausting ineffective planning and many unnecessary trips, planners can walk through the Digital Factory and reduce the time spent so far through the digital image. To avoid misunderstandings about the respective parts of the building, communication can take place directly via the Digital Factory system. This increases transparency and enables planners to answer FAQs within the Digital Twin instead of repeating the same questions permanently on the phone.

Sensitive data that is used within the Digital Factory can be reduced to the relevant areas and hidden for external users. Furthermore, it can be controlled who can add or display POIs. In addition, the Digital Factory enables suppliers to serve themselves on-site and to answer possible questions that were forgotten during face-to-face meetings through the digital twin itself.

The transformation to the Digital Factory thus leads to fewer risks and ultimately to any costs being calculated more realistically. In summary, this ultimately leads to faster processes, fewer errors, more effective delivery cycles, and enormous cost savings!

3. Process Optimization and Maintenance through the Digital Factory

The use of the Digital Factory also optimizes the processes of repair and maintenance teams responsible for the smooth operation of factories. This is because they are often confronted with unclear but potentially critical problems. Especially in centralized organizational structures, because repair or maintenance is outsourced. This is because many service providers have to find the location in a new environment and have the right equipment with them.

This leads to unnecessary complications and longer downtimes for the respective plant. The Digital Factory helps to remedy this situation with its “Indoor View”, as this function can also effectively save costs and streamline processes. Because when you walk through the system of a Digital Factory, not only can the assets be marked and easily found – tickets can also be reported intuitively. The hotline colleagues do not have to write whole novels about the position, as was previously the case, after which the staff also do not have to decipher routing instructions and look for contacts.

The hotline worker or reporters can create a POI through the Digital Factory to indicate the location of the problem. The maintenance worker can easily find the repair location through the Indoor Viewer’s dynamic navigation and simultaneously retrieve all the required information so that all the necessary equipment/tools are brought along, which in turn reduces the initial fix rate and downtime.

4. The Digital Factory, Safety, and Compliance

In addition to quick maintenance of defective objects, it is fundamental that safety precautions are followed in factories where there is a high risk of injury. In our experience, staff in most factories have to undergo many EHS procedures. These inspections, training, and rework take time away from everyone involved and often disrupt the “daily business” within a factory. As a result, inspections are often carried out superficially under time pressure, which directly results in hazards often not being properly diagnosed or controlled. The use of the Digital Factory can support EHS issues in several ways.

Inspectors can easily get an overview by using the Digital Factory system and thus identify areas of increased risk on a virtual level. Through the virtual inspection, an initial diagnosis can already be made – and interventions can already be planned online, for example when it comes to measuring the space of an aisle or the heights of an assembly position.

This also means that on-site visits can be made more efficient through the use of the Digital Factory and can be concentrated on the essentials through a prior “online analysis”.

Furthermore, the evaluation of an on-site inspection can take place more effectively, as the Digital Factory system allows a renewed insight into the factory so that all in all the quality of an inspection is significantly increased.

Last but not least, in addition to the significantly increased quality and transparency of an inspection, the Digital Factory can be used to conduct virtual training (e.g. as part of onboarding) so that factory workers can familiarize themselves with meeting points, exit routes, and other key locations in the factory. Furthermore, emergencies can be simulated, and the routes planned for them can be walked.

5. The Digital Factory, Virtual Training, and Onboarding

However, EHS training is not the only training option that is optimized through the integration of the Digital Factory. Onboarding of new employees is usually done on-site. In many jobs, the onboarding period takes 1-3 months. Since onboarding new employees also take the time of already onboarded employees, company performance slows down during these 3 months initially until the employee is onboarded. Often the new employee is inundated with information within their new role and quickly becomes overwhelmed. In addition, there is uncertainty about the new working environment (e.g. abroad), which often leads to uncertainty on the part of the new employees. This further impacts the high potentials who take on the mentoring function within the onboarding process.

Many of these problems can be alleviated or even avoided entirely by using the Digital Factory by supporting and partially outsourcing training for the digital world. Not only does the use of the Digital Factory allow employees to onboard quickly and efficiently within a unique experience through the visual image, but they can also lookup relevant information within the digital twin and process it more easily because of the visual image. This accelerates the usually overloaded onboarding process and simplifies the work of the trainers on-site, who can now focus on the important functions, as most questions about the working environment could be clarified in advance.

After onboarding, it is also possible to facilitate staff training through the Digital Factory. For example, when changing positions, information on a specific device can be retrieved so that the employee can get a theoretical insight linked to the visual image before working with the device in reality. Employees can thus access knowledge more easily and develop their skills and interests by using the Digital Factory.

Securing Competitive Advantage through the Digital Factory

In summary, the integration of the Digital Factory offers a holistic package for optimizing the entire value chain from onboarding, safety, and compliance, repair, and maintenance, to the assembly line and factory planning. The integration of the Digital Factory thus makes processes leaner and leads to massive cost savings through the new level of agility and transparency, which will lead to a positive return on investment (ROI) again. The use of innovative technologies, such as the introduction of the Digital Factory, also has a subliminal effect, because advanced, employee-friendly technology naturally has a subconscious effect on the entire staff. It further ensures increasing commitment and employer branding, so that you will be the first choice of applicants in the future.

Would you like to find out more about the Digital Factory? Take advantage of our 30-minute introductory webinar and learn more about the Digital Factory integration and how it can help you manage your assets sustainably.

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