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How to Get Started with Digital Fabrication

As consumers demand greater choice, manufacturers are being forced to become more agile in the way that goods are made. Following the digital transformation example set by businesses in other sectors, manufacturers need to increase their use of data in setting strategy and accelerating production.

Implementing digital fabrication brings manufacturing processes into the wider digital transformation strategy. The journey towards implementing digital fabrication is a five-step process:

1. Document your workchain
Before anything can change, you must first understand how your production line works. Initially this will involve auditing the factory layout and the workchain you use, from raw materials through to finished goods. Ultimately, this will become a digital twin, a representation of the facility with associated data.

You must also look beyond the production line itself, considering potential interfaces where data can be collected – or applied – to improve insights into operations. This will also help to define where production data interfaces with other corporate applications to improve oversight of the entire organization.

2. Assess potential data inputs
As well as mapping out the layout of your facility, you should be looking to import historical data from the production line. This will provide granular information for analysis, allowing you to identify shortfalls and opportunities for improvement.

As with all data-driven applications, the more data you can import and use, the more information you have to work with. You may require specialist assistance if data needs to be reshaped or extracted via a custom interface.

3. Align third party data sets
With the digital fabrication platform populated, the next step is to make production data available to the rest of the business. Your ideal platform will provide simple-to-use APIs to make this process simpler, allowing two-way data flow with core business applications like ERP, MS Project, customer service management systems, etc.

With the ability to view additional data, every business unit is empowered to make smarter decisions that allow you to better serve customers and their needs.

4. Digitize data capture
With a stable digital fabrication platform in place, focus shifts to how best to capture new information – particularly anything that is still reliant on manual processes. Paper-based records or “shared” spreadsheets are candidates for digitization because they capture valuable information that is not easily available for use.

Investing in hardware – like ruggedized PCs or similar – allows you to capture data at the point of creation and make it immediately available to any person or system connected to the digital fabrication platform. This approach also reduces the risk of data being lost. It also saves time manually transcribing written notes, a process that is inherently risky and inaccurate.

5. Implement scanning technologies
Digitalization can go further still with the use of scanning technologies. Affixing barcodes or QR codes to materials and goods will help to simplify stock management, allowing you to track movement throughout the facility with a quick scan. Intelligence built into the digital fabrication platform automates data capture and update so that workers on the production line can focus on other tasks whilst ensuring that records of movement and stock levels are accurate at all times.

An ongoing process of refinement
Digital fabrication is an ongoing process of continuous improvement. The five steps outlined here are just the beginning of a journey. But by collecting, collating and presenting information more effectively, every business unit is empowered to make smarter decisions – or to make adjustments that improve the efficiency and profitability of every production run.

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