Does digital manufacturing need standards?
What does “standardize” mean? Does the sheet-metal industry need standards in its digitization process, or are these simply a series of norms for obtaining a seal of quality? Do we actually gain any real benefits from standardization? Can it really help to transform a sector? These are just some of the questions we might ask when analyzing the need for standardizing the digital factory in the metal-forming sector.
Digital manufacturing refers to the application of information technology to all the processes involved in an organization’s day-to-day operations. In terms of the metal-forming sector, the initial goal is to make the production chain more effective and more efficient, with the aim being to respond more quickly to market demands.
In short: speeding up the decision-making process, making it better and more effective, necessarily means accessing all the data available to the business, regardless of the process involved or its location onsite. This calls for reliable information.
Considering that a digital factory’s purpose is to ensure that technology can contribute to better and more efficient decision-making, which involves having all the data regardless of the process or its location, it is clear that the future requires the digitization of all the processes inherent to any firm.
With a view to driving the greater digitization of industrial sectors, many governments have rolled out schemes that contribute to the standardization of the digital factory. There are examples in countries all over the world, such as South Korea, the US, China, and Germany, where state-sponsored projects have been launched to create roadmaps for standardizing their versions of digital factories. This endeavor is designed to be the trigger for accelerating the digitization process in the industry; yet these steps are merely local initiatives that have yet to be taken up on a wholesale basis, and constitute a general framework that in practice is being unevenly embraced in the different sectors, depending on each one’s degree of maturity.
What does the use of standards or norms involve?
Yet what does the process of introducing standards or norms mean exactly? According to the International Organization for Standardization (ISO), it is an activity whose mission is to introduce, in the face of real or potential problems, provisions for common and repeated uses, with the aim being to obtain the highest possible level of organization in a given context, which may be technological, political or economic.
Standardization is essential for the widespread implementation of the digital factory in the metal-forming sector, and, on a more general basis, in any industrial sector.
This definition comes across as overly abstract or far removed from our needs. We could, nonetheless, define it more straightforwardly as the statement of technical specifications and rules that facilitate the integration of processes linked to different organizations and diverse systems. The aim is, in short, to foment cooperation and contact across all the levels of an industry in order to make better and more agile decisions.
This means that without standardization there will not be any cooperation (or at least it will be not so easy to implement), which will block any contact among the different players involved in the daily operation of any organization, and therefore hinder the industry’s digitization. It will also rule out the availability of the data required for proper decision-making, so standardization is essential for the widespread implementation of the digital factory in the metal-forming sector, and, on a more general basis, in any industrial sector.
Objectives of standardization
More specifically, standardization pursues three goals:
- Simplification: reducing the number of models and rules and keeping only those that are absolutely necessary.
- Unification: allowing for exchanges and comparisons across countries.
- Specification: avoiding errors of identification, using clear and accurate language.
It is important to mention the vast sums of money that developed countries are investing in standardization organizations, both domestically and internationally. This is a clear indication of the importance given to this issue. The most recognized organization in this field is the aforementioned ISO.
Benefits of standardization
It is often the case that a large section of the market is unaware of the benefits of standards. The greatest benefit is linked to their ultimate purpose: to improve a firm’s standing and performance.
Standarization provides certainty on the interaction between software, hardware, and machinery.
One of the main benefits of standards is that they favor interrelationships within any work and professional ambit. Furthermore, having a set of standards at the corporate level helps to streamline communications because everyone is speaking the same language. In sum, and in the case of the digital factory, it provides certainty on the interaction between software, hardware, and machinery.
Therefore, whenever an industry requires a combination of different technology providers to complete its transition to digitized manufacturing, standardization should become a key ally for ensuring the compatibility, scalability, and maintainability of its digital process by providing a guide to the nature of the software to be used at each level in the firm.
The keys: software and the cooperation of all stakeholders
Although we have yet to mention this, a management software package is most commonly used for articulating the automation and digitization of all an organization’s operating processes. Today, all companies have systems and software from different sources, and therefore from different providers.
Having mainstream data on what is happening in a company’s operations, in all its processes and departments, is vital for speeding up the decision-making process in constantly changing environments. If we add to this the need to interlink the production chain, this will undoubtedly call for the integration of solutions from different manufacturers. And not only in terms of software, as we are referring to cooperation and coordination with machinery and hardware. On the entire journey towards the digital factory, standardization may help to make this cooperation and contact easier.