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Digital Fabrication in the 2020s: Why You Must Act Now

The Fourth Industrial Revolution has been underway for some time now, with early adopters investing heavily in techniques and tools to digitalize operations. However, it was the 2020 global shutdown that forced many more to face reality – change is coming, and it cannot be avoided.

Enforced working from home and social distancing requirements have highlighted the many problems of being over-reliant on manual processes. Paper-based records like shift logs simply do not work when operating with a skeleton crew or when key members of the team are working remotely.

These manual processes are an inconvenience under normal operating conditions. Now, they may be downright dangerous.

Efficiency all the time
Digitalization is not purely about efficiency, although that is a very important benefit. Automating data collection and making it readily available to stakeholders is actually a key tool for improving business resilience and continuity. Better digitalization would have helped many manufacturers deal with pandemic-enforced restrictions more effectively.

Introducing digital fabrication
Fabrication is, by its very nature, hands-on. Products have to be completed on the production line. But production planning can be completed anywhere – so long as the necessary data is available.

Digital fabrication bridges the gap between engineering, procurement and construction by enabling improved information flow. It does this in three ways:

1. Availability of real time information
Changing consumer preferences, along with fluctuating levels of demand, means that manufacturers will have to move towards a more agile model of fabrication. Becoming more agile is dependent on having accurate data available when it is needed.

But for truly agile operations and decision making, you need real-time information from every touchpoint of the fabrication process – from raw materials in to feedback from the production line to completed goods out at the other end.

2. Improved planning with digital data
Accurate digital data allows for better planning of every stage of the fabrication process. Delays with suppliers? Switch your order to an alternative. Problems on the production line? Assign the appropriate engineers as a priority.

The easier it is to access information, the easier it becomes to make truly informed decisions more quickly … and produce more accurate quotes up to 80% faster. This means that every operation and process has the potential to become more agile.

3. Improved material optimization
Reducing waste is one of the most effective ways to control costs and maximize profit from each production run. Being able to view accurate data about material usage and consumption is a start, but digital fabrication goes further still.

With the right tools you can interface with 2D/3D design systems and ERP to better plan exactly how raw materials are used. With material optimization you can reduce use, waste and remnant storage, allowing you to maximize profits on every production run.

Why now?
So why does your business have to act now? The pandemic has helped to clarify the challenges facing fabricators and helped emphasize the importance of embracing digitalization.

Most manufacturers have developed temporary measures to help them weather the worst of the global lockdown. Now, it is time to formalize and improve those measures to deliver benefits over the longer term. As the economy recovers, demand for cost-savings will be greater than ever. Indeed, the very survival of some firms will depend entirely on whether they are able to significantly streamline operations without compromising customer service or the quality of their finished goods.

Digital fabrication provides some important steps out of the current economic uncertainty and lays a reliable platform on which to build a more efficient, profitable future.

Learn more about digital fabrication and how Hexagon can help your business meet the agile production challenges of the future.

About the Author

Ismo is the Pre-Sales Director at Hexagon and responsible for the development of the fabrication market mainly in the EMIA region. He is based on Oulu, Finland. He has a broad experience within b-to-b sales, pre-sales and business development in the metal industries, steel prefabrication and shipbuilding.

Profile Photo of Ismo Piirainen