A step towards the future: Digital manufacturing in German medium-sized companies

Image shows a digital factory

Whether cloud computing, Internet of Things or robotics - the digitization of manufacturing offers German SMEs numerous opportunities to optimize operating processes and manufacture more efficiently. According to the Digitization Index for SMEs 2020/2021, SMEs score 58 out of 100 points, a level of digitization that still shows some untapped potential. Small and medium-sized companies are often unsure where to start digitizing their production. There is a lack of skilled workers to implement the digitization measures. In most digitization projects, IT plays an admin role and creates the framework conditions. However, the skilled workers in the respective departments have to implement the projects. In addition, many are uncertain when it comes to assessing legal issues, such as data protection.

Advantages of digital manufacturing

The advantages of digital manufacturing also include intelligently networked methods in machining. Machines can be networked with each other and with software. This makes it possible to produce small and very small quantities economically, which in turn strengthens competitiveness. In addition to more flexible production, it is also possible to monitor the wear of milling tools during operation using digital technology. This allows resources to be conserved: by preventing them from being replaced even before they have reached their maximum useful life. In addition, there are now also Internet platforms in the machining industry where products can be ordered in a matter of seconds. This makes order planning not only faster, but also much more flexible. In practice, this means effortless prioritization, cancellation and rescheduling, which in turn has a direct impact on customer satisfaction. Optimized order planning also improves production processes: they become faster, more punctual and increasingly reliable. Like a chain reaction, the positive effects of data-driven manufacturing platforms and the rapid exchange of information between the various company divisions continue to extend into quality assurance and logistics. Without the support of digital solutions, this acceleration would be unmanageable.

Risks and opportunities of digital manufacturing

However, risks also lurk in the transformation of industrial production: for example, in the selection of sensible digital manufacturing solutions. The rapid pace of technological progress is not making the situation any clearer. In addition to individual companies, the pressure is also growing on the entire economy, politics and society to develop sensible digitization strategies. If this succeeds, countless new opportunities will open up. After all, suitable strategies are important foundations for effectively and appropriately translating the future image of Industry 4.0 into reality. Inevitably, the role of people is also changing: their importance as experienced know-how carriers is increasing, while their importance as mere implementers is decreasing. New job profiles are emerging that are concerned with developing, implementing, controlling, monitoring and improving digital systems and orchestrating collaboration between humans and machines. But companies as organizations are also facing new tasks. If the meaningful digitization of one's own company is to succeed, it is important to have a plan that includes all aspects: the technical as well as the human. After all, digitization can only unleash its powerful benefits in the long term if the company's management establishes a digitization culture that educates everyone involved about the new tasks, rights and obligations.

New competitiveness in the SME sector

By digitally networking methods, processes, tools, machines and plants and building intelligent systems, industrial production becomes more flexible and efficient. This makes production processes safer, more up-to-date and faster, which in turn improves profitability and creates new competitiveness. This new competitiveness, together with the resources it frees up, enables companies to focus on continuously improving and developing their processes, products and services. Those who succeed in actively shaping this change will also be able to survive and grow in the future in the increasingly challenging international competition - in machining as in other areas of the German SME sector.