Digitalization, automation advice, benefits

A global manufacturer explains benefits and offers advice about connecting the real world of manufacturing to the virtual world, through digitalization and automation.

By Mark T. Hoske March 26, 2021

The virtual world needs to connect to the real-world of manufacturing, because “The competitive advantage is here, and it’s all about digital,” explained Raj Batra, president, Siemens Digital Industries USA, Siemens Industry Inc., in a keynote presentation at Automate Forward, an A3 online conference and exhibit during the week of March 22.

Siemens, also among the world’s largest manufacturers, has been applying digitalization and automation at its own 250 sites. Siemens received a World Economic Forum (WEF) “Lighthouse” factory award for its electronics manufacturing plants in Amberg, Germany, and Chengdu, China.

Amberg: Digitalization, automation benefits

The Amberg plant has 99.9999% perfect quality daily, a 14x productivity increase since 1990 (70% less downtime) in the same footprint with 120 variations per day, 1 product per second (15 million product per year), and 350 changeovers per day to handle 1,200 different products, and 200 new products per year.

Some plants are more advanced than others, Batra said, as Siemens continues to integrate digitalization to deliver automation advantages.

Expanding on benefits and challenges, Batra noted that 75% of the Siemens electronics manufacturing value chain is handled by machines and robots to 60,000 customers worldwide. Machines optimize other machines. Using a combination of technologies provides maximum impact, but the right mix and scale-up process is required. Avoid pilot purgatory, which many not be taken seriously, by setting short, specific goals for first applications of new technologies. There’s a cultural component to it, Batra said; people may resist the digital route and need encouragement.

Workforce digitalization, automation adoption

Like any new technologies deployed, some people, including “Boomers” eligible for retirement, may resist new technology adoption, even though many may be adept at using commercially available digitalization, such as smartphones and mobile software applications. Unlike enterprise resource planning (ERP) rollouts that can take 5 or 6 years of pain, automation and digitalization rollouts can have very quick return on investments (ROIs), Batra said. Smarter simulations for training and faster time from design to productivity and additive manufacturing serve as prime examples of digitalization optimization.

Workforce issues continue, as 53 of 100 jobs in manufacturing seem likely to go unfilled, Batra said, even as the pandemic accelerated the need to manufacture closer to consumption. He observed that digitalization that promotes greater understanding more quickly, modeling and simulation in high fidelity are more attractive to younger workers, and that having research and development near manufacturing increases innovation.

Positive signs for manufacturing, digitalization

Even so, manufacturing is looking up, Batra said, because the PMI Index is over 60, and CEO optimism is extremely high. More companies are adding wealth now, and digitalization “the safest investment,” he said, is being used as a competitive weapon.

“We couldn’t have predicted these amazing data points 5 or 6 months ago,” Batra said, though the “supply chain is still a mess out there” with backups remaining in many ports. Expanded use of automation in warehouses continue to meet pandemic demands. In 90 days of the pandemic, warehouse output grew more than it had in the prior 10 years. Industries are embracing the new normal with safety, speed and innovation through digital technologies, shifting warehousing and manufacturing processes.

Companies best-prepared for the pandemic had started early with integrated automation and digitalization efforts. Batra cited an October 2020 PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) survey that said more than half companies participating believe pandemic investments will strengthen them for the future.

Simulation is one of the great decisive advantages as products, production and performance are proven before operations start; Batra said a holistic digital twin is needed to enable and connect the virtual and real world. over the lifecycle for discrete and process industries.

Digital twin of production for lines and plant ensures everything will run as intended without physical prototypes and with cybersecurity measures optimized along the way.

Digital twins: Help for pharma, other industries

Digital twin technology investments have helped pharmaceutical customers accelerate during the pandemic. Siemens formed a task force to support pharma customers, helping to move products from the lab to patients more swiftly. The idea is to drive digital transformation with seamless integration of automation, software and other technologies with better simulations and reduction of paper-based reporting.

In automotive industries, manufacturers are redesigning products and processes toward more electric offerings, Batra said, by applying software and automation, virtual commissioning, modular factory design, and using pretested and reusable automotive automation standards.

Automation association digitalization

A3, the Association for Advancing Automation, which organized Automate Forward online event, plans an in-person Automate show, June 6-9, 2022, in Detroit. A3 also plans to merge its organizations for robotics, machine vision and motion control, at, in April.

Mark T. Hoske, content manager, Control Engineering, CFE Media and Technology,

Author Bio: Mark Hoske has been Control Engineering editor/content manager since 1994 and in a leadership role since 1999, covering all major areas: control systems, networking and information systems, control equipment and energy, and system integration, everything that comprises or facilitates the control loop. He has been writing about technology since 1987, writing professionally since 1982, and has a Bachelor of Science in Journalism degree from UW-Madison.