‘Digital Factory’ technologies on the grow, SME survey finds

SOUTHFIELD — SME, formerly known as the Society of Manufacturing Engineers, has released a new survey on “Trends in Digital Manufacturing” finding expectations for strong growth in technologies surrounding what’s called the Industrial Internet of Things.

Conducted in partnerhsip with Plataine Ltd., a Waltham, Mass.-based developer of automation software, the survey was completed by nearly 400 executives in industries including aerospace, automotive, furniture and chemicals, was designed to help advanced manufacturing managers prepare for the rapid advances in digital technology that are transforming factories. The survey reveals how factories intend to implement new digital technologies, which challenges are faced, and what benefits they envision.

Growth expectations were strikingly optimistic. Nearly all — 93 percent — of respondents expect at least single-digit growth in their operations in the next year. Meanwhile, 84 percent of respondents reported they are already engaging in digital factory initiatives. These initiatives focused on four areas: digitization of manual and paper-based processes; supply chain collaboration; smart shop-floor sensors; and automation and robotics.

Additionally, the survey defined a group of industry leaders — companies that expect double digit growth while also reporting exceptional quality standards. Industry leaders, who made up 24 percent of respondents, showed clear trends that set them apart. For example, 37 percent described their organization’s digitization level as “mostly digital” compared to 25 percent of the rest of the market.

When digital strategy was analyzed by tier segment, OEMs were discovered to be significantly more likely to invest in innovation than their suppliers. For example, 67 percent of OEMs are investing in digitization of manual or paper-based processes, compared to 21 percent or less in any other tier. When industrial companies were asked which business pain points they hoped Industrial IoT and Industry 4.0 technologies could address in the future, five themes became clear. The most popular, reported by 62 percent of respondents, was the hope that digitization could help increase manufacturing capacity.

Furthermore, firms reported on the challenges they face on the road to full digitization, mainly technical and organizational. Technical challenges center on the concern that factories do not have the necessary expertise to adopt advanced digital technology. Organizational challenges center on human resources, such as the staff training to manage the real-time data that streams from different sources.

“Understanding the challenges the manufacturing community faces, and their plans in adopting advanced technologies is critical to success,” says Jeff Krause, executive director and CEO, SME. “Surveys such as our Trends in Digital Manufacturing report give us a good sense of progress made, trends to look for and how much work still needs to be done.”

Avner Ben-Bassat, President and CEO of Plataine, added: “It is exciting, though not surprising, to learn that almost all respondents have plans to take digitization initiatives this year. Plataine is proud to have collaborated on this survey with SME, and to partner with leading organizations worldwide on their digital journeys.”

The Trends in Digital Manufacturing survey is available on request at https://www.plataine.com/iiot_survey_2018_sme/. More at www.plataine.com or www.sme.org.

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