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How the Pandemic is encouraging Growth in Digital Manufacturing 

Written by MS
02/11/2020 12:00:54

For the last few weeks, our blogs have focused on plastic machining and manufacturing and how this can benefit your business. This week we are altering our theme slightly and diving into the world of an entirely new manufacturing process. 
Digital Manufacturing, also known as Industry 4.0, is an integrated approach to the manufacturing method, centred around the use of computer systems to monitor and adjust the process. It brings together physical machines, human input and computer-generated data to create the ideal environment that encourages efficiency. 
The digital manufacturing process is one that involves the use of sensors to monitor machine operations, coupling this with extensive analytics that informs us of how well any machine might be working and how we might be able to improve these operations. In short, a successfully integrated manufacturing system could lead to increased productivity and lessen the cost of production on a per-item basis. 
What’s more, is these benefits can be felt across a range of industries and sectors. No matter your business model, target audience or the type of products you create, digital manufacturing will have advantages for your company. 
In this blog, we are going to first take a look at some of the key advantages of digital manufacturing and go on to explore how innovations in this area have continued to thrive throughout national lockdowns due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 
3 Advantages of Digital Manufacturing:
Safety: A fully integrated workspace is one where safety is of the utmost importance and, if your production floor is safer, it is ultimately more productive! Wearable devices are becoming more popular year-on-year, and we're not just talking about smartwatches that measure your daily step count. 
Some smart devices are able to provide guidance when performing high-risk tasks. For instance, if you are moving a heavy load around a factory floor, the Kinetic Reflex wearable device will analyze your posture to check that you are operating safely. 
Quality: Smart tools are key pieces of equipment to add to your production line. They can reassuringly manufacture high-quality and consistent parts and components every time. This may be of more use in, say, the automotive industry where a variety of parts are continually made for the use in certain models of car. 
Image recognition in computers can also help notice faults in parts or machinery that the human eye might not be able to see. This will improve safety for your workers, but also ensure that almost everything you produce is able to hit the market soon. 
Efficiency: We’ve already mentioned that increasing efficiency is the main advantage of digital manufacturing methods - and there’s an extensive list of reasons why this is the case! First and foremost, digital dashboards can provide you with realtime accounts of machine operations and productivity. You get an overview of what is and what isn’t working in your business. 
On top of this, investment into digital manufacturing has allowed for the creation of Automated Guided Vehicles (AVGs) that can move materials, parts and even finished products around your business and into warehouses. They can operate safely 24/7, minimising downtime and errors. 
Digital Manufacturing and the Pandemic:
We are typically used to hearing about how COVID-19 has been a disruptive force. Supply chains have been turned on their heads, and economies around the world are entering large recessions. Demands for materials have spiked at the same time. For instance, we had issues sourcing clear plastics such as polycarbonate and PTEG, but all is back in stock now and ready to produce Sneeze Guards and Protective Screens! Take a look at our range here 
What COVID-19 has demonstrated is the need for all industries to adapt and change. Traditional methods of manufacturing and disruption have been upset as many workers were forced to work from home or were furloughed. As we head into a second national lockdown in the UK, though construction and manufacturing industries are allowed to continue operating as normal, it is worthwhile thinking about innovative methods of manufacturing. 
Digital Manufacturing and innovations in this field were vital during the pandemic to provide some life-saving services. For example, Breathe99, a manufacturer of breathing masks, developed technology to 3D print versions of its masks that would go on to keep key workers safe from COVID-19. 3D printing allows for a high volume of products to be created quickly - and as the virus was on the rise, this was vital. In a previous blog, we looked at how 3D printing is a key form of plastic machining, take a look here
In a recent survey conducted by Proto Labs Inc., two-thirds of respondents said that the pandemic has demonstrated areas of possible development in their business. As the supply chain is unlikely to entirely return to its pre-COVID levels any time soon, this will for adaptation is necessary. 
Future-proofing is now the main concern for many businesses and digital manufacturing is providing solutions. Notably, many sectors are now leaning toward ‘on-demand’ production methods to reduce waste. A fully integrated workplace would easily be able to start the manufacturing of products when and if orders come in, without the need for humans to check and begin the process.
In a world where we have to create socially distanced workplaces, which are COVID-secure, the use of digital and automated manufacturing processes is becoming more vital. Similarly, as the virus spikes in certain regions, factories are being put at risk of closing or stopping large parts of their operations. The ability to continue to organise and conduct manufacturing - from afar, if necessary - will be vital if we wish to regain our strong economic position. 
So there you have it, our look into the world of digital manufacturing and the role it has had in keeping our countries and industries moving during the pandemic. There are, of course, some drawbacks to this digitalisation of the manufacturing world, namely the reduction of human staff needed on any given production line, but one cannot ignore the positives this process has at times of global crisis such as now. 
Do you have any manufacturing methods or areas of interest that you want us to explore in a future blog? Get in contact and let us know! We can be messaged on Instagram or Twitter, @barkstonplastic. We also have a bi-weekly email newsletter where we provide more insights into the worlds of plastics and manufacturing. You can sign-up to that by clicking here
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