Professor Denis Dowling
Centre Director, I-Form
Digital manufacturing is the future, but suppliers need the skills and raw materials to flourish today. Research demonstrates the benefits digitalisation can bring.
Manufacturers that invest in digital technology will become more efficient and competitive and boost their sustainability credentials, according to the I-Form Centre, which conducts high-impact research into how digital technology can be applied to materials processing.
Digital technology supports more Irish companies to install machines that can self-monitor, for example, and analyse and diagnose issues without the need for human intervention.
The I-Form Centre director, Professor Denis Dowling, who works alongside other academics and researchers, says manufacturers can see significant returns by using a technology platform that combines in-process data with artificial intelligence, which is also informed from previous processing runs.
Approximately 12.5% of Irish greenhouse gas emissions are
associated with manufacturing, but there is a target to
reduce overall industry emissions by 35% by 2030.
“This is all part of the Industry 4.0 revolution,” he says. “Our research identifies ways of using digital tools to monitor and provide feedback from manufacturing processes. This results in increased manufactured part performance, as well as enhancements in process efficiency, sustainability and profitability.”
This SFI-funded research centre also works with European partners to develop sustainable manufacturing approaches such as remanufacturing. This is where used products are rebuilt to their original manufacturing specifications by combining reused, repaired as well as new parts. This money-saving approach is already widely applied in the aerospace and automobile sectors.
Manufacturers need assistance to fully benefit from digitalisation and adapt to several challenges, including evolving national and European legislation. There is also a lack of expertise in advanced manufacturing.
Demand is strong for manufacturing engineers and scientists with the right digital skills and factory floor workers who understand robotics, the Internet of Things (IoT) and artificial intelligence.
Another short-term dilemma is a growing shortage of critical raw materials, particularly metals. In Ireland, for example, the international supply shortage of titanium could damage the manufacturing output of some medical devices.
One major benefit of digital manufacturing is the positive impact it has on a manufacturer’s sustainability. Companies can quantify process emissions and process waste in real time and use predictive models to prevent the over-purchase of raw materials.
Approximately 12.5% of Irish greenhouse gas emissions are associated with manufacturing, but there is a target to reduce overall industry emissions by 35% by 2030. Under EU regulation, manufacturers must now have a transparent approach to sustainability reporting. “Significant savings can be made by developing digital models of processes,” says Professor Dowling. “These can dramatically reduce the need for physical experiments by as much as 90%.”