How digital transformation can help your company become more flexible and consistent

Digital transformation is key to updating and improving manufacturing operations and helping them be more automated and efficient.

By Victor Bertorelli October 23, 2023
Victor Bertorelli is a technical consultant in the Maumee Department of the industrial systems division at Matrix Technologies. Courtesy: Matrix Technologies

Your manufacturing company suffers inconsistencies, time crunches, and other setbacks from outdated systems. You ask yourself, how do I automate a manual process? If you are curious how digital transformation might be right for your business, this article is for you.

What is digital transformation and how can it help my company?

Digital transformation refers to the leveraging of digital technologies to transform and innovate business processes. Newly-developed digital technologies offer many opportunities for businesses to improve efficiency, cut costs, or save time, making digital transformation a key factor for businesses adapting to a fast-changing market.

For process manufacturing, digital transformation—the base of “Industry Manufacturing 4.0”—is also key to updating and improving operations. Many chemical companies, food and beverage manufacturers, and pharmaceutical companies (amongst others) are still struggling with production systems that are obsolete. In most cases, these systems require multiple points of manual intervention throughout the production process, increasing the odds of human error and potentially decreasing the consistency of product. With digital transformation, however, your company can introduce an automated process that can improve your flexibility and consistency while also reducing costs and hassle.

The challenges of outdated processes

To demonstrate the need for a move to automation, let’s consider the example of scientists working in a research and development capacity. These scientists are interested in improving a particular type of building material, and they need to alter and create several master recipes on a regular basis to continually test new approaches to creating a better product. With an outdated system, they go through the following process every time they alter the recipe (e.g. by introducing a temperature change at a particular point in production, a cooling mechanism for a specific period of time, or new ingredients):

  1. The scientists write down the new information on a piece of paper.

  2. They hand that piece of paper to an operator.

  3. If necessary, they train that operator in the new procedure.

  4. The operator then has to make the proper adjustments at the appropriate time in order for the process to go smoothly.

The above scenario creates many potential problems, including multiple opportunities for human error, increased training costs, and the potential for inconsistency with production. Using an outdated system, an operator could release a material too soon, increase a temperature too late, or make any number of mistakes that affect the final product.

The benefits of the digital recipe

Introducing an automated digital process can reduce training costs, decrease the potential for human error, offer more flexibility, and maintain consistency in operations and results. For the scientists mentioned above, for example, we used PlantPAx (Rockwell Automation’s Plant Wide Control System) as our base platform and implemented a Product Configuration application to manage the scientists’ requirements. In this case, the process went something like this:

  1. Scientists input the measurements for the components (e.g. water, chemicals, initiator mix, and specific materials) into a form in the system. Recipes are stored in a database.

  2. Operators see recipes that are authorized for production.

  3. The recipe is activated.

  4. The recipe is executed by the control system.

  5. In cases when specific task are not automated, precise instructions are issued to operators, which are confirmed by them once executed.

In this scenario, the computerized system guides each step of the process and guarantees all parts of the production system are prepared for the next step in the process. Few operator trainings are needed, and the automation of the system reduces the possibility of human error affecting the process (and, therefore, the final product). In addition, the scientists are much more flexible with the changes they can make and how often they can make them while keeping the process and product consistent.

Digital transformation: A holistic view

Above, we provided an example of how digital transformation can increase accuracy, decrease human error, and reduce costs. But these are not the only benefits of digital transformation. At Matrix, we take a holistic view of the entire production system in order to properly code and configure a new process that works for you on multiple fronts. We don’t just reduce training costs and human error; we help you maintain quality while doing so. And we don’t simply make the process easier; we focus on creating a system that allows you to adapt to changes in the market while being consistent.

If you’re stuck with an outdated system or simply want to improve your processes, we recommend looking into digital transformation for your business. Though you may face some challenges along the way, adopting digital technologies to transform manufacturing processes can improve your company’s flexibility and consistency while staying up-to-date on the latest technology.

Matrix Technologies is one of the largest independent process design, industrial automation, engineering, and manufacturing operations management companies in North America. To learn more about our industrial automation solutions, contact Victor Bertorelli, Technical Consultant, Industrial System Division.

Author Bio: Victor Bertorelli is a Technical Consultant in the Maumee Department of the Industrial Systems Division at Matrix Technologies. Victor is responsible for conceptualizing and implementing control systems for the F&B Industry (Distilleries, breweries), Chemical Industry (Reactors) and the Pharmaceutical Industry (Bio-Reactors & Formulation) based on standards like ISA-88, ISA-95, and PackML. He has extensive background in control systems design and has implemented many successful projects. He joined Matrix in 2015.