PLM companies are full speed ahead in digital transformation. Every vendor is advertising how their technologies will be significantly improved by applying magical “digital word” to all existing and future technologies. We are getting digital twin, digital thread, digital process. And of course digital PLM. In the past defense labs and companies with the biggest budgets were coming with new technologies. Last decades of infrastructure and internet development demonstrated that digital innovation is coming bottom-up – from open source and consumer market products. So, we got a web of digital transformation, mobile computing, and many other products. Eventually, these technologies are coming to large companies as well and inspire enterprise software innovation.
Today, I want to talk about machine shops. Because in my view, machine shops is a possible place where digital transformation can start. First step back, to prevent possible confusion. Here is what I mean by machine shops.
A machine shop is a room, building, or company where machining, a form of subtractive manufacturing, is done. In a machine shop, machinists use machine tools and cutting tools to make parts, usually of metal or plastic (but sometimes of other materials such as glass or wood). A machine shop can be a small business (such as a job shop) or a portion of a factory, whether a toolroom or a production area for manufacturing. The parts produced can be the end product of the factory, to be sold to customers in the machine industry, the car industry, the aircraft industry, or others. In other cases, companies in those fields have their own machine shops.
Go to Google Maps and type Machine shop – you will find many around you. There is a lot of small job shop, but you will find small and medium-size businesses. Few clicks and you can see a shop with machines and CAD system on a big screen TV set.
There are tons of these shops around and I bet their processes are pure “analog” – email, CAD files, spreadsheets. This is how it looks like. What path engineering software companies can offer to digitally transform these machine shops?
My attention was caught by Siemens PLM blog – Why the digital machine shop is crucial for future business. The article speaks about how machine shops fit the future of digital manufacturing in the way Siemens PLM can see it. Most of the advantages are attributes to the digital twin, smart factory and additive manufacturing.
Here is an example. It is heavy on design, design tools, digital twin and planning using digital data.
How do new technologies help me design tools? Having the best possible tools in your digital machine shop is crucial, so you need the right technology to help you design them. Using the best mold design tool can optimize the process and deliver productivity levels that outperform traditional CAD software. This mold design tool provides step-by-step guidance to help you create the most efficient workflow and to integrate complex design elements into automated sequences.
How does the digital twin fit into process planning? CAM is an important component of the digital machine shop, but it isn’t the biggest thing. If you want your set-up to be done correctly the first time, you need to incorporate the digital twin. The digital twin allows you to predict virtually what will happen physically by taking information from the virtual, simulated world and the physical, machined world into one place. Once you refine your setup with the digital twin, you can shift the setup down to the shop floor and be confident it will work with the highest possible accuracy and efficiency.
I like Siemens PLM ideas, At the same time, it made me think about the business of machine shops. Old manufacturing was focusing on the local market. Somebody located in the suburbs of Boston never sold anything in Detroit. Internet and globalization changed it. Now you can reach global markets and technically expand in a very cost-efficient way. We’ve seen this transformation happened with other businesses. But manufacturing seems to be still in the pre-digital area. And this is a big opportunity for PLM companies and newcomers – digitally transform manufacturing bottom-up from small shops to larger contractors. From supply chain to OEMs.
What is my conclusion? The manufacturing industry has a big potential in digital transformation. The data is one of the most important vehicles of digital transformation is a gold mine enterprise software such as PLM, ERP, and supply chain is barely scratching the surface of what is possible to do with manufacturing data to transform manufacturing businesses. Just my thoughts…
Disclaimer: I’m co-founder and CEO of OpenBOM developing cloud-based bill of materials and inventory management tool for manufacturing companies, hardware startups, and supply chain. My opinion can be unintentionally biased.
Image credit Design Shop LLC