Using digital representations of factory systems in a so-called digital factory helps to reduce manufacturing costs, and serves as a testbed and a way of managing industrial information, says design and engineering software multinational Dassault Systèmes South Africa solutions consultant Jason Fagan.
A digital factory enables engineers – based on highly detailed and accurate computer- aided design (CAD) schematics – to test, adjust, validate and improve many aspects of a product, including testing the use and experiences associated with the product or system. This includes, for example, testing routine maintenance work of an industrial machine in the conditions and confines of an end-user’s site.
A digital factory also serves to manage the operational and equipment data holistically and granularly. For example, the iterative maintenance information for each piece of equipment, the faults encountered, parts replaced, maintenance routine and instructions, as well as the operational data of the machine, can be linked to all other systems and processes in the digital factory system. This collection of information can then be used to improve all aspects of operations, he explains.
Virtual systems reduce costs and delays in industry. Digital programs have an ‘undo’ button that enables engineers to test any aspects of production and operations without wasting materials or productive time of machines. The outcomes are also instantly available and significantly cheaper than learning through trial-and-error or wasting resources as a result of an oversight, he explains.
Digitalisation of all aspects of industry, including machine and human functions, is at the heart of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, emphasises Fagan. A digital factory, thus, functions as a single data model across engineering and manufacturing, providing a digital continuity from design to production and maintenance.
This digital data continuity enables companies to model their development over time, simulate the impact that new systems will have on existing processes and systems, and simulate the manufacturing of new products in minute detail, down to the specific movements robots will make to manufacture components.
A digital factory optimises and maximises company operations in the context of a rapidly, continuously evolving technology landscape, Fagan concludes.