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These Factors Affect Digital Transformation

Klaus M. Blache | February 1, 2022

Additive manufacturing, data challenges, and workforce issues are just some of the factors that will affect your ability to achieve digital transformation.

By Dr. Klaus M. Blache, Univ. of Tennessee Reliability and Maintainability Center (RMC)

It was a challenging 2021, with changing trends causing disruptions and opportunities. Efforts toward implementing Industry/Manufacturing 4.0 have already been integrating digitalization. Items listed below are what I’ve seen have the most impact on reliability/maintainability.

Additive Manufacturing

Commercial and industrial applications of additive manufacturing are being used to reduce maintenance time to repair and inventory. This evolving but proven process is used to create a physical object/part by layering materials, duplicating a digital model. 3D printers use a variety of materials to provide choices of product outcome. The process can reduce energy and minimize waste. In partnership with Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL), Oak Ridge, TN, (ornl.gov), the Advanced Manufacturing Office at our university has printed large items such as a sports car and, at the other end, small functional nozzles. 

Digital Technology

Social distancing has greatly accelerated the use of digital tools and technologies. When it comes to augmented reality (to assist in maintenance steps and remote assistance) and digital-twin applications (for analysis and maintenance service), the adoption rate is low but growing. Most companies still struggle to produce daily production quotas and can’t focus the necessary time on digital transformation.

Maintenance As Profit Center

Annual surveys continue to show that too many companies don’t understand how to implement reliability and maintenance as a competitive advantage. Remember that the goal of maintenance is not to fix it faster. It’s doing the appropriate root-cause analysis and re-engineering to minimize maintenance. 

Big-Data Challenges

More and more data is being collected, but data storage can get expensive. How much do you send to the cloud and how much to edge computing? Do you trust your data enough to make the tough decisions at the operational level?

Today’s systems reduce the time needed to collect data from multiple predictive technology and monitoring applications. It’s critical that the proper analysis and follow-up is done. Collecting more data faster doesn’t always produce better results.

Workforce

By 2025, millennials will make up most of the workforce. At the same time, experienced personnel are rapidly departing. The challenge is to get the two groups together, so knowledge can be passed on. Meanwhile the millennials can help accelerate digital acceptance.

Supply Chain

I’m surprised at how fragile the supply chain was in 2021. Those issues will continue into the foreseeable future. Just-in-time deliveries to support lean manufacturing need to be re-evaluated. 

These challenges aren’t going away, and Industry 4.0 is coming. Is your current business model ready? How resilient and innovative is your organization? It’s time to include what’s needed to be successful in this digital transformation. EP

Based in Knoxville, Dr. Klaus M. Blache is director of the Reliability & Maintainability Center at the Univ. of Tennessee. He is also a research professor in the College of Engineering. You can contact him at  kblache@utk.edu.

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