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How The Digital Ecosystem Improves Engagement Across The Manufacturing Value Chain


Hari Sadarahalli, Corporate Vice President, HCL America, Inc – HCL Technologies

Digital transformation is disrupting all industries globally and has accelerated over the last two years during the pandemic. The Industry 4.0 market, currently estimated at $116 billion, is expected to grow at a CAGR of 16.4% to $337.1 billion by 2028. In the manufacturing industry, traditional enterprises are implementing digital manufacturing. The industry is experiencing a shift to “mass personalization” from “mass production,” enabled by connected experiences, smart manufacturing and automation.

As manufacturing evolves, its complexities and challenges are evolving too. To respond to these complexities, enterprises today need to build smart, agile and robust applications using new technologies like AI, machine learning, AR and VR, collaborative robots or “cobots,” 5G, smart sensors and 3-D printing. Sound complex? Here are three tenets to keep in mind as you build a robust digital manufacturing ecosystem.

1. Connected Design

Using virtual models to simulate products has changed the game in the manufacturing industry. Almost all manufacturers have implemented some version of digital twin technology to control processes before actual production.

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But there are some challenges as well with respect to compatibility and data transmission between various teams. In the entire design-to-production process, some individual pieces remain disconnected. For instance, between teams, software like 3-D computer-aided design (3-D CAD) could be incompatible between the supplier and the customer. Or there could be a gap between the actual part and the intended design because of an incompatible inspection tool, machine or other issue.

Connected design, the idea that systems should be designed so that they easily connect and share meaningful data, is the answer to such challenges. With connected design, data transitions seamlessly between various systems, improving quality, productivity and cost reduction. Connected design also provides an increased level of customization that a traditional model can never achieve. The level of personalization that has gone into building a connected car, for instance, results in a unique emotional connection between the customer and the product, which is the game-changer.

2. Connected Factory

For a smart factory, the seed of a seamless data flow across the supply chain is planted by connecting all equipment on the factory floor. Products like RFID tags and sensors are being used extensively in smart factories, with older equipment too being fitted with these. These sensors and tags emit data in real time, which is shared on the cloud to perform advanced analytics. True digital transformation occurs when this data is used to gain insights that ultimately make operations smoother, faster, more efficient and more agile.

There are multiple benefits of a connected supply chain solution, but the primary objective is cost reduction. Solutions like optimized inventory, warehouse management, real-time tracking and tracing, order management and demand forecasting can all reduce costs in storage, transportation, inventory holding and other areas.

With greater visibility on different operations and the ability to make informed decisions in real time, performance improves, downtime is reduced and there is a stronger hold on monitoring and management.

3. Connected Products And Services

Customers who have already traversed the journey of smart manufacturing demand more. Steps like resource optimization, offline visibility of resources and a hybrid machine-human setup come naturally as the next stage of improvement in the Industry 4.0 era. Customers want to try advanced models with their vendors, like pay-per-outcome and as-a-service offerings, to reduce risks.

In smart manufacturing, the second wave of innovation is supported by connected products and platforms, which enable real-time monitoring of the product’s condition. The data shared by sensors is analyzed on the cloud through smart algorithms and commands, which allows us to study changes in product performance to improve optimization.

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Connected products and services have immense potential. Smart sensors in wind turbines can control blade movement for capturing maximum energy. In mining operations, tasks can be executed remotely from above the surface. Electric grids equipped with smart meters can predict demand patterns to improve efficiency. Connected products and services create a digital ecosystem where the manufacturers, suppliers and customers engage flexibly across the value chain.

Final Thoughts

Supported by data explosion, hyper-localization and consumerization, the demand for increased personalization has led many enterprises to digitally transform their business. The Covid-19 pandemic and concerns about user and employee safety acted as catalysts to push this demand further. The ability to respond to changing demand by expanding into new growth areas, leveraging the strengths of the existing business, being agile and focusing on creating more personalized and connected experiences will be key to the success of manufacturing enterprises. In addition to this, it is crucial for manufacturers to improve digital customer experiences to gain a competitive advantage, lest disruptive newcomers gain an edge and eat away their piece of the market share.


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