Digital Manufacturing for the Discrete and Process Industries

Sept. 10, 2012
To truly understand how applicable digital manufacturing technology can be for a certain industry or application, it’s important first to understand the core aspects of the technology.

According to Tony Christian, director at Cambashi (, a Cambridge, U.K.-based research and analysis firm that focuses on the business benefits of IT), the two main aspects of digital manufacturing are:

· The engineering design tools and the processes used to define and design the means of production required to make the product. This includes the facility itself, the tooling, the machinery and its configuration, the specification of materials and suppliers, etc.; and

· The production management systems used to manage production operations and processes from planning through to the near real-time management of shop floor activities. Typically this will involve a combination of technologies to support manual and automated operations.

The discrete manufacturing industries’ use of product lifecycle management (PLM) to support manufacturing operations and the associated production engineering processes is well documented and what we typically envision of when we think of applying digital manufacturing.

Proof of this can be seen in the automotive industry’s investment in exploiting PLM to integrate the management of product information across entire supply chains, says Christian. “In both aerospace and electronics manufacturing PLM is widely used to support both inbound (supply side) and, to some extent, outbound supply chains. One interesting challenge for PLM systems in all of these industries is the increasing presence of embedded software in the final products and the associated problems of how to manage such software as an integral component of the product.”

The process industries have struggled with the integration of facility design and production operations, according to Christian, which would seem to position this industry perfectly to begin serious exploration of digital manufacturing technology.

“The fact that engineering design information has been hard to exploit for downstream operations (e.g., plant maintenance) has been seen as an issue in the process industries for many years,” he adds.

Vendors focused on addressing this issue in the process industries include Aveva’s Vantage solution and Intergraph’s SmartPlant architecture. These software tools have “made substantial progress in enabling the data developed during the design and commissioning of oil and gas plant to be transferred into operations,” says Christian. “However, there is still a gap between facility data and the information required for production engineering processes, with the latter still in the relatively early stages of PLM support as it relates to solutions for recipe management."

>> Click here to read Automation World's complete article: Will Digital Manufacturing Fulfill its Promise?

>> VIDEO: Watch a video of Jörg Duus explaining how the filling machine maker uses digital manufacturing tools at

About the Author

David Greenfield, editor in chief | Editor in Chief

David Greenfield joined Automation World in June 2011. Bringing a wealth of industry knowledge and media experience to his position, David’s contributions can be found in AW’s print and online editions and custom projects. Earlier in his career, David was Editorial Director of Design News at UBM Electronics, and prior to joining UBM, he was Editorial Director of Control Engineering at Reed Business Information, where he also worked on Manufacturing Business Technology as Publisher. 

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