The journey to digitalisation


Gary Carroll, head of aerospace - Siemens UK & Ireland, believes the message of how digitalisation can enhance manufacturing capabilities for the UK aerospace sector is gaining traction.

Gary Carroll, head of aerospace - Siemens UK & Ireland, believes the message of how digitalisation can enhance manufacturing capabilities for the UK aerospace sector is gaining traction.

Digitalisation is the technology focus behind Industry 4.0, which through the development of innovative platforms such as Siemens’ MindSphere, will drive productivity enhancements, competitiveness and business value for the world’s second biggest industry.

There has been a lot of media attention regarding the term Industry 4.0. Central to its successful adoption is the uptake of digital technologies, and work is underway to ensure this happens. The launch in January 2017 of the Industrial Digitalisation Review led by Siemens’ CEO, Juergen Maier, on the back of the UK Government’s Industrial Strategy, aims to forge a roadmap on how best UK companies can adopt digital technologies and make the most of the opportunities the digitalisation of industry offers the economy.

The review panel is reviewing and talking to stakeholders, influencers and large and small businesses to see how the design, development and deployment of digital technologies will support and drive the UK’s digital industrial revolution – more commonly referred to as the ‘fourth industrial revolution’.

Industry 4.0 is a confluence of several major innovative technologies in a state of stability and maturity AND have the ability to transform manufacturing through tools such as robotics, advanced sensors, 3D printing, the Internet of Things (IoT), cloud computing, digital fabrication and simulation. Supporting this, new business and marketing models will underpin the new technology and manage a more organic relationship with customer requirements; linking all these requirements to the real world via smart phones/tablets and laptops.

Looking at digitalisation from a customer point of view, we can predict scenarios where they could order products from their device and the request is sent directly to the factory, customised to their individual requirements. This type of interaction between business and customer requires more manufacturing flexibility and adaptable machines and processes with a requirement for interaction between human, robotics and machine solutions.

All these resources will require enhancement, training and more design to enhance how they interact with the outside world. For example, robots and machines could be capable of learning and optimising their performance to suit demand, intelligently monitor their own health and request maintenance. Human skill would encompass a better understanding of analytics, electronics, coding and mechatronic skills. Soft skills such as people management, emotional intelligence and complex problem solving are also seen as key.

Adept at adaptation

The UK aerospace sector is already on its own digitalisation journey, seeking to adopt and use existing and emerging digital technologies that can deliver real benefit to influence future success.

A couple of key trends linked to digitalisation are currently informing thinking across the sector as companies wrestle with how they position themselves for a digitalised future. An example is the increasing ability through PLM software technologies to garner the advantages of simulation to radically alter expectations around potential production ‘disturbances’.

Now, for example, specification changes to component design can be handled and then customised within a digital environment; tested to prove it works and then transferred to the real-life manufacturing environment without causing any impact on production scheduling. The ability to generate a ‘digital twin’ through tools such as Siemens’ SIMIT simulation solution can make a profound impression on how aerospace engineering, manufacturing productivity and effectiveness can be enhanced.

Likewise, efficiencies in areas such as energy management, machinery condition monitoring and data management are being improved through digitalisation platforms and PLM software tools such as Teamcenter for manufacturing design, and MindSphere which is turning large volumes of ‘Big Data’ into operational insight. MindSphere, a cloud-based and open IoT operating ecosystem offers powerful data analytic and connectivity capabilities, tools for developers, applications and services. Ultimately, cloud data is allowing users to analyse their processes and products and the condition of their machinery and build trends and analyse current performance to optimise assets and improve execution in the future.

These are just some of the readily available digital technologies providing the foundations for the UK’s industrial digitalisation future. They are already capturing the imagination of aerospace companies and their supplier base as they seek productivity enhancements, manufacturing flexibility, competitiveness in a global marketplace and real business value.

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