In 2015, the World Economic Forum launched the Digital Transformation Initiative. This initiative assessed digitalization’s impact on 13 industries, including automotive, consumer and logistics, and across five cross-industry topics. One key finding was discovering digital’s potential to deliver $100 trillion in value to businesses and society over the next decade.
The problem: very few companies have figured out how to apply a digital factory concept in a way that can truly benefit their organization. In fact, data collected from 24 OECD countries reveals approximately 5 percent of the entire manufacturing market is taking the most advantage of digitalization and, thus performing 30 percent better than the rest of the industry.
The concept and value of digitalization isn’t new and has been evolving for decades. Let’s go back in time nearly 35 years when I was a student for Industrial Engineering (IE) at Tel-Aviv University.
At this time, I had the opportunity to work on an IE project at a small lens production factory in Israel that manufactured eye glasses. This factory produced over 900 pairs of lenses per day. Most of the work was done by special machines, yet the transfer from machine-to-machine and the inspection process was completed manually.
They steadily increased production, eventually doubling the number of orders to nearly 1,800 pairs per day. But they wanted to go bigger, which meant investing in more machines. The cost to ‘go bigger’ exceeded $900,000.
My project was to build a simulation model to help the local factory management justify the required investment of funds in the new machines. By using simulation, I could show that the factory had one major bottleneck at the end-of-the-line inspection machine and final inspection station. I suggested making a few small investments just around the bottleneck without altering the bulk of the production line, which could easily double the throughput. This investment would cost only $90,000 – close to a 90 percent savings.
The factory management was quite excited with this idea, so we flew to Germany to meet with the German machine vendor that made the required changes in the production line, which saved the company over $800,000.
In 1913, Henry Ford took the moving assembly line concept he saw in stockyards and implemented it in his Dearborn, Michigan production plant. Cars were produced on a massive scale with every unit similar to the previous one. These movable production lines transitioned later into mass customized production systems, in which each customer could select from a wide range of features and capabilities for his personal vehicle.
Now, one century later, we are starting to see a push toward individualization, where every customer wants something different, something unique, while some customers also want to become inventors.
But not every need for customization is due to a want. In eyewear, prescription lenses have always been customized to meet the individual’s eyesight.
To support individualization which is a true lot size of one, producers will need to deploy new production processes and technologies which are capable of supporting any number of the following:
• Reconfigurable manufacturing • 3D Printing • Advanced Robotics • Autonomous automatic guided vehicles (AGVs) • Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) systems • Virtual Reality • Big data analytics
These technologies and their implementation can be referred to as digitalization.
The concepts of digitalization aren’t limited to big enterprise companies like the major automotive companies. Small companies face similar challenges and might find it easier to implement digitalization since they have less “not invented here” (NIH) products and not too much legacy systems.
21st century eyewear manufacturing
When a person needs a new pair of glasses, they typically select a frame and type of lenses. Then the optometrist measures their eyes and prepares a manual report, which he would package with the frame and send to the factory for processing.
Once the package arrived at the factory, one employee unpacks it, loads two blank lenses into the first machine and moves it along until order has been fully processed. In parallel, another employee measures the frame and develops a small program to cut the lenses. After polishing it to the shape and size of the frame, he inserts the lenses into the frame and ship the package back to the shop.
This process can take about ten days and is error prone.
At Crystal Optics, they have developed a new end-to-end digital process which starts in the shop. The eye measurements are sent directly to the factory, and the optometrist can check to see if the factory can supply the requested type of lens; he can even suggest alternatives if the customer’s choice isn’t available.
Technically, a factory could receive the data package before 10 a.m. and have a finished product waiting for the customer at the shop by 5 p.m. the same day.
The technology behind the digital twin is what drives the ability to customize eyewear in a fraction of the time. A digital twin is an accurate virtual representation of a product, a process, a production system and even a whole plant in operation. It’s an essential part in the process of digitalization allowing any company to design, develop, simulate and validate a single machine, a production cell, a production line and even a whole factory.
Crystal Optics’ process is fully automated, but the final inspection is done both by a vision system and a worker to ensure superb quality before delivery to the end customer.
The next step is to connect all production devices to an IIoT platform and start collecting information about the production. The end goal is to operate this small factory in a fully autonomous way during the night, including third shift workers who will produce lenses for customers in foreign countries. With this, Crystal Optics will be able to increase utilization and compete with the very low cost lenses producers in Asia Pacific.
Companies of all sizes are struggling with digitalization, especially smaller businesses that are afraid to take advantage of this technology due to unforeseen costs and unknown factors. Yet, these businesses are watching other companies surpass them in production capability and competitiveness.
Crystal Optics is a prime example on how a small company can take advantage of the digital twin technology, operate a more efficient digital factory and remain competitive in the marketplace. This offers proof that we need to rethink manufacturing so we don’t limit ourselves to the current level of production and performance.
About the author Zvi Feueris senior vice president of Manufacturing Engineering Software for Siemens PLM Software, a business unit of the Siemens Digital Factory Division. He has more than 25 years of experience in Enterprise Software business management, with a primary focus in the Manufacturing Industries. He has worked for: the Israeli Aircraft Industries (IAI); Digital Equipment, a leading provider of d system integration projects; and since 1995, with Tecnomatix, UGS and Siemens. Feuer’s current responsibilities include leading global teams and initiatives to develop and service customers worldwide and providing Manufacturing Engineering Software solutions. These solutions include optimizing production and service facilities, assembly line design, developing and validating production systems and programming CNC machines in major machine shops. Feuer received his Master of Science in industrial engineering from Technion – Israel Institute of Technology, and also received an executive MBA from UCLA – NUS.