The Digital Factory: Seeing is Believing

The fact that manufacturing constitutes 20 percent of Singapore’s economy (by GDP) often comes as a surprise to visitors flying into this 277-square-mile tropical island for a vacation or to attend one of the many conferences and exhibitions that take place here. But indeed, drive a short distance away from the retail palaces on Orchard Road and the business-district skyscrapers and you’ll come across semiconductor fabrication facilities, precision engineering factories, chemical and pharmaceutical plants, and oil rig and vessel production yards, to name some of the key manufacturing sectors.

And the government intends to keep it that way. The recently released Committee on the Future Economy (CFE) report, which includes a series of recommendations for enhancing the country’s economic competitiveness over the next several years, identifies manufacturing as a strong anchor for the economy and recommends maintaining this one-fifth contribution to GDP. The report also notes that Singapore should focus on advanced and high-tech manufacturing and that Industrial IoT technologies, for example, can help companies integrate services elements into their businesses and differentiate their products.

In order to get the country’s manufacturers moving in the right direction, which in today’s world means getting smart, going digital, aligning with Industry 4.0, etc., there’s a slew of government initiatives. One of these, announced in Parliament last month, is the setting up of “model factories” at two research centers.

Among other aspects, these will provide an experiential learning environment around advanced technologies; allow companies to improve and optimize their production processes; and in a co-innovation approach, enable the ecosystem of researchers, technology providers and end users to create and test-bed new innovations.

Last week I had the opportunity to visit the Advanced Remanufacturing and Technology Center (ARTC), the site one of the two Model Factories. An applied research institute, ARTC is a public-private initiative with funding from the government and (currently) 44 industry members, including names such as ABB, DMG Mori, Hexagon, National Instruments, Siemens, and Trumpf.

Designed as a platform to accelerate the adoption of digital and smart manufacturing technologies, Model Factory@ARTC will comprise three manufacturing lines (discrete, continuous, additive) and a virtual demonstrator. While Model Factory@ARTC is not set for full opening until Q4 2017, McKinsey, the global management consultancy and an ARTC member, officially opened its Digital Capability Center (DCC), an initiative allied with Model Factory@ARTC and which shares some of the latter’s resources, on April 11.

The Digital Capability Center includes a physical showcase of a company of the future to show what’s possible with Industry 4.0.

It is one of five such facilities McKinsey is launching around the world – the others are in Aachen (Germany), Beijing (China), Chicago (USA), and Venice (Italy) – to help companies meet the demands of Industry 4.0 and harness the emerging technologies behind this so-called fourth industrial revolution.

McKinsey cites many challenges for companies along the digital transformation journey. These include integration issues with legacy systems, data privacy and cybersecurity concerns, difficulty in justifying investments in new technologies, shortage of key skills, and misaligned management incentives. Additionally, in Asia, more companies feel unprepared for Industry 4.0 compared to the US or Germany.

Against this backdrop, for end users in Singapore and the region, the DCC aims to boost awareness and understanding of the relevant emerging technologies by demonstrating these in action and, importantly, showing their impact on manufacturing performance. For suppliers, the DCC provides a safe testbed for piloting their own Industry 4.0 technologies on actual machines and equipment.

And so provided within the Digital Capability Center is a physical showcase of a “company of the future”, digitized along the value chain from product development to service in order to show what’s possible with Industry 4.0. The simulated company is a mid-sized gearbox manufacturer headquartered in Singapore and with a further eight plants worldwide. Actual gear production and assembly takes place in the facility, and Industry 4.0 technologies in evidence include  IoT, collaborative robots, and analytics.

For example, to illustrate the impact of predictive maintenance, a DMG Mori NTX 1000 machine tool (integrated mill turn center) is outfitted with two vibration sensors, one for the ball screw and one for the spindle bearing. The ball screw is likely to experience wear-out failure and so a condition-based maintenance approach is applicable; however, the spindle bearing is likely to experience random failure and so a predictive maintenance approach is recommended.

PTC’s ThingWorx IoT Platform provides the connectivity plus the data analytics necessary to enable that predictive ability (on when the bearing is going to fail). The cost savings from early intervention to replace the spindle bearing would be in the range of $3 million for a 10-line, 30-machine facility, says McKinsey. PTC and DMG Mori are both partners in the Singapore DCC.

Illustrating the impact of predictive maintenance on a DMG Mori machine tool.

Together with Predictive Maintenance, the three other learning “themes” at the Singapore DCC are Digitized Performance Management (provides visibility on the performance of connected machines), Digital Procurement, and Downstream Supply Chain. McKinsey says it will ramp up the offerings of the DCC every quarter and themes planned for the next 12 months include Augmented Reality; Energy Optimization; Intelligent Inventory; Human-Robot Collaboration; AGVs; 3D Printing; and Digital Thread.

So as Singapore manufacturers look to upgrade, evolve and embrace Industry 4.0, seeing such technologies at work in an experiential learning environment is clearly useful. But how about the value for equipment and technology suppliers involved in the Digital Capability Center initiative? Silas Daiber, head of Additive Manufacturing Center, DMG Mori Singapore, tells me this:

“This facility helps to show people what is possible today by bringing Industry 4.0 to the shop floor. If they see the predictive maintenance application working on our machine and providing early warning of part failure, it immediately increases their level of understanding. They also appreciate that they do not have to go out and buy a completely new manufacturing line but can realize benefits just by adding one or two sensors to an existing machine and enabling remote access by the supplier. DMG Mori machines are increasingly becoming connected and this DCC enables people to gain greater trust in such technology, which is important and surely positive for us.”