Series: upcoming challenges for smart manufacturing (3)

PENTA Director Peter Connock on how Europe can regain leadership in the fabrication of increasingly customised products demanded by today’s markets.

The past decades have seen a trend of de-industrialisation in Europe, with a move to Asia for the mass production of standardised components and product designs. New manufacturing technologies, such as additive manufacturing combined with advanced sensor capabilities and with new data gathering, transmission and mining possibilities have the potential to introduce a major paradigm shift in the industry. This represents a unique opportunity for Europe to regain leadership in the fabrication of the increasingly customised products demanded by today’s markets. A significant proportion of the projects labelled in the first two PENTA calls for projects are addressing this promising field of innovation.

Manufacturing – a legacy industry?

The overall challenge in creating a true digital industrial environment is (in most cases) the transition from a legacy manufacturing mechanism. The implementation of flexible, efficient and fast digital manufacturing techniques requires a completely new way of thinking, followed by a process of adaptation of old methodologies and equipment involving complex system and sensor integration

Think the unthinkable

Can manufacturing equipment be owned or provided as a service? Can the equipment tell you when it needs maintenance and learn from experience? Can you build a virtual factory before making any investment in machinery? This is the future; requiring a completely new economic model for cost effective and flexible production. Factory simulation, through such techniques as digital twins and artificial intelligence will play key roles in future manufacturing processes

Consider the entire supply chain and product life cycle

Factories won't be isolated any longer. Service providers will monitor equipment 24/7. Advanced sensing and feedback systems will need to be installed throughout the factory. Customers will monitor their personalised product as it is manufactured, and products will be fitted with sensors providing their designers (and users) with feedback about its behaviour in the field. All this requires full deployment of the IoT in the industrial environment and beyond, covering the full life cycle from design to recycling.

Data and connectivity

None of this will work without advanced high-speed communications and analysis capabilities. With “cloud-controlled” manufacturing, the secure high-speed transmission of large quantities of data (plus comprehensive local analysis) will be essential. All aspects of the manufacturing process will need to be sensed and analysed. 

Economy and society

This major transformation can only occur if there is a solid economic case for the new manufacturing entity. This is a commercial, not a technology project and (in many cases) it will require a new business model. Full digital transformation also has impact on skills and resources, which all must be considered in the impact of a project. Environmental sustainability is also a key component in new manufacturing processes.