Computer science and mechanical processes need to be synchronized successfully.

Industrial applications have always relied on the latest technology to gain an advantage. In modern times, this boils down to digital upgrades and the successful synchronization of computer science and mechanical processes.

In light of Moore’s Law, which states that computing power capabilities tend to double every two years, manufacturers are tasked with having to constantly update their digital systems accordingly. As of summer 2020, the following represents the best digital upgrades for industrial operations:

Industry 4.0

Industrial organizations that embrace the digital age leverage the benefits of technology as the industry evolves. The industrial revolution began with machines powered by water and steam. Electricity, mass production, and the assembly line represent the second wave. Computers and automation brought about the third revolution. Industry 4.0 augments the internet connection to drive smart technology, robotics, additive manufacturing, and artificial intelligence.

Digital Signage

Digital signage is the use of technology to display messages. Retail establishments often use digital signs to promote products and announce discounts to customers, and to communicate to staff via screens in the back office. A retail digital display can also be used in an industrial setting. Rather than printed signs, posters and notices, industrial operations can benefit from signs in a digital format, easily modified as needed. Displays may include cautionary messages about hazardous materials, restricted areas, instructional hazard signs, and reminders on social distancing and washing hands. Facilities already equipped with digital signage may consider an upgrade from Windows PC-driven signs to smart technology that replaces the PC with a chip, providing a direct connection to the internet.

Robotics

Robots can play a role in packing, shipping, and receiving. This technology is relatively accessible and affordable, offering the benefits of cost reduction and optimum utilization of floor space. As an example, in the Amazon fulfillment center, human staff work in tandem with pallet-slinging robots and box-shuffling cyborgs. When the customer clicks the button that reads, “Place your order,” the robots are set in motion. The floor is covered with QR codes. The robots read the codes, broadcast their position, and transport items to the associates who then pick the orders to be shipped. The technology informs the associates of the correct box size for the purchased items. A human packs the boxes, and the machinery scans, labels, and sends. Software regulates the items in the pipeline to maintain a steady pace.

Autonomous shipping vehicles

Some ports are home to cranes without drivers and motor trucks without cabs. A human-controlled crane pulls containers off the ship and loads them onto a central platform. Another crane, functioning independently, pulls the containers off the platform and loads them onto a truck, which is also autonomous. The truck navigates around the port from crane to crane, transporting containers. Thousands of tiny transponders, which are buried in the paved road of the shipyard, broadcast codes that inform the trucks where they are to avoid a collision.

Additive manufacturing

Technology that constructs three-dimensional objects by adding layer upon layer of material, such as plastic, metal, and concrete, is known as additive manufacturing (AM). Applications for AM are expansive. Early on, it was used for rapid prototyping to visualize a product before it was produced. Now it is often used to produce production parts in the airline, dental, medical, fashion, and automobile industries.

Supply chain management

The supply chain process is being transformed by automation, streamlining tasks from contract signatures to supplier performance management. Automated systems can eliminate the need for back-and-forth paper documentation, enable proactive adjustments based on new information, and identify customer service breaks prior to escalation.

Key steps

To prepare for digital upgrades, the Association for Supply Chain Management recommends 10 steps that consider decision making, project team designation, cost-benefit analysis, expert consultation, project planning, technology selection, infrastructure updates, internal communication, cultural awareness, stakeholder buy-in, relationship building, and implementation.