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by Alex Alvarez, April 25, 2022

The Role of Data in Advanced Manufacturing

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The new ways we can manage, analyze, and share data are creating important new possibilities for manufacturers, enabling us to not only make better products in more efficient ways but also to build better, smarter companies.  

The same also goes for the most innovative manufacturing processes and technologies available to industry, known collectively as “advanced manufacturing.” And in many ways, data in advanced manufacturing is even more central to the successful implementation of these tools and approaches—and to achieving the best possible outcomes for your bottom line.

Understanding Data in Advanced Manufacturing 

Advanced manufacturing is a general term for an ever-changing set of technologies and processes that can achieve outcomes that would be impossible with “traditional” manufacturing processes.  

The tools and approaches that are typically labeled as “advanced” today are diverse, including new machines, new materials, and new ways to fabricate with them. In many ways, the only thing they really have in common is the importance of data.  

data-in-advanced-manufacturing

Additive manufacturing 

Additive manufacturing refers to any process that lays down successive layers of material to create a final form—including forms you can’t make any other way. There are many variations, but whether you’re additively working with plastic, metal, glass, or ceramics, all these systems follow digital instructions. There is no modern additive process that doesn’t depend on digital technology—and thus, on data.  

Subtractive 

Since we put the “C” before the “NC” and put computers in charge of numerical control systems in the mid-twentieth century, data has been essential to subtractive manufacturing. And that’s even more true for the most advanced systems, like 5-axis milling. Engineering and programming for 5-axis is no picnic—it requires specialized training to turn your designs into finished products. But if you have the skills and can manage the data correctly, you can achieve incredible results.  

Advanced Materials 

Whether you’re talking about new formulations of glass, steel, plastic, or even ceramics, advanced materials deliver performance characteristics that traditional materials simply can’t. You’ll find them used in everything from high-tech hardware to spacecraft. One thing they all have in common? They require absolute precision, both in how they’re made and how they’re fabricated. That makes data—and how you deal with it—key.  

Robotics 

Robots were some of the first digital technology to find a home in manufacturing. And as digital tools, data will always be central to their function. But today’s robots are using automation to, in some ways, make data less central to their immediate use. It used to take trained specialists months to install and program robots on the line. Today’s models are far easier to program, and you don’t need an advanced degree. But make no mistake, data is still important behind the user-friendly interface. And with new sensors that enable us to make robots more aware than ever before, we have new data sources that can be integrated into our systems.   

Data Storage, Movement, and Management: Welcome to the Cloud  

Since Claude Shannon coined the word “bit” for the individual unit of information in his seminal 1948 monograph, “A Mathematical Theory of Communication,” we have had data in the modern sense—on/off, yes/no, 1/0.  

The next question, then, was: what do we do with all those bits? From paper tape to punch cards, floppy disks to flash storage, phone lines to fiber optic cables, the solutions we’ve found to store, move, and manage data have been almost as important to innovation as progress in our processors.  

Today, with the cloud offering access to nearly unlimited data storage and compute power from anywhere, manufacturers can take advantage of data in advanced manufacturing in ways that were never possible before.

Autodesk’s Fusion 360 provides a unified, cloud-native development platform for 3D product design and manufacturing. With integrated CAD, CAM, CAE, and PCB functionality, and access to technologies like simulation and generative design, it’s a powerful toolset for advanced manufacturing. And it enables you to connect your full team and your partners through the entire product lifecycle in the cloud.

Vault-as-a-Service, a new offering from KETIV, allows you to securely back up and manage your design and engineering files in the cloud without up-front IT investment, so you can be sure that everyone has the right version of the design when they need them, no matter where they are, and can make changes without creating additional complexity.  

And with the Autodesk Forge cloud platform offering new ways to break down data silos, connect teams, and integrate processes, manufacturing data can be used in a range of ways—not only to design and fabricate, but to simulate, generate, optimize, and even sell solutions. When you combine these cloud-based platforms with the new materials and fabrication methods of advanced manufacturing, more becomes possible for manufacturers. 

Doing More with Data in Advanced Manufacturing 

Ultimately, to remain competitive in today’s business landscape, you need to do more with your manufacturing data than simply create parts or products. You need to put your data in the center of your organization so that you can use it, too:  

  • Increase efficiency and transparency in operations, procurement, and supply chain management. Know what’s coming from who when, and what other options you have should disruptions occur.   
  • Boost agility in the sales and configuration processes, so that an engineer doesn’t need to spend dozens (or hundreds) of hours working on a solution to make a sale. Instead, let your salesperson—or even your customer—do the work in hours or minutes using automated configurators.  
  • Streamline change management, so that modifications to a product from one team don’t slow down the work of others. Using data-driven automation, you can avoid the tedious manual change process and stay on schedule.  
  • Improve sustainability by reducing wasted material, energy, and time—driving better results for your bottom line at the same time.  
  • Enable more informed and insightful management, so that everything from new product development to workforce planning can become smarter and more effective.  

And while these benefits may seem like plenty of reason to take a more strategic approach to data management, they’re just the beginning. These are all things you can do today.  

By putting data in the center of your organization now, in the next few years you’ll be able to: 

  • Create a digital twin of your entire facility and every line in it, so you can integrate data from your models, your machines, and your sensors to maintain a constantly updated digital version of what’s happening, predict what’s ahead, and optimize every part of the process.  
  • Go autonomous by using artificial intelligence to analyze and interpret data in real-time, then make decisions to optimize with little or no human aid required.  

From New to Next 

You know how it goes with digital technology in industry: what’s innovative one decade becomes standard the next, and what’s standard eventually becomes obsolete. Innovation is a constant process, there is no final destination. The question is always, “how can we do this better?”  

That’s ultimately what advanced manufacturing is all about: continuing to advance. Integrating one or more advanced processes or technologies—like additive manufacturing or advanced ceramics—into your operation can certainly move the needle depending on your goals, your customers’ needs, and your digital transformation objectives. But ultimately, it’s by taking an advanced approach to your data and what you do with it that will really help you move ahead and find your place in the future of manufacturing. 

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