How digitalisation is now making work fundamentally faster and simpler.
From industry and public administration to medicine and the future of mobility – everyone is talking about digitalisation these days. But exactly what benefits does digitalisation offer companies, especially in the mechanical engineering sector? To answer this question, it’s first necessary to take a step back, because the meaning of a term that crops up so often inevitably becomes a little blurred. Generally speaking, digitalisation has four different but related meanings. In technical terms, it effectively means digitisation – in other words, converting analogue data into a digital format. Any mention of digitalisation in broad terms, though, is normally referring to the digital transformation of society as a whole. The digitalisation of a business involves two types of transformation. Companies can use digital technologies both to optimise existing in-house processes and to adapt – or even replace – their business model. When it comes to the benefits of digitalisation, these two types of transformation are both involved, often even in parallel. For example, a company obtains something it uses for internal improvements as a customer of another company that has modified its business model for this purpose.
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New ways of working, communicating and collaborating thanks to digitalisation
From messaging and cloud services to software for video conferences – one key benefit of digitalisation is that its online offerings in principle mean that people in many professions can work whenever and wherever they want. It’s now possible to access data almost anywhere. Naturally, the extent to which staff actually benefit from this depends on the way their particular company is run. Basically speaking, though, digitalisation and the internet have created new freedoms that improve employee satisfaction by providing a better work-life balance. It’s a well-established fact that remote working in general and working from home in particular have made great strides as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. Working away from the office and holding virtual meetings online to communicate directly have now been part of everyday working life for quite a while. Thanks to digitalisation and networking, communication with colleagues, partners and customers in other countries is now easier than ever before, too. This also saves on travel costs and normally generates lower CO2 emissions than when travelling to a meeting by car. Although video conferences do generate emissions, too, a virtual meeting is the greener option as soon as participants have to travel over five kilometres to attend a meeting in person.
The item Engineeringtool is located in the cloud, so all that’s needed to use it is an end device with internet access and a standard browser.
Disciplines of mechanical engineering, including design engineering, also benefit from this flexibility created by digitalisation. For instance, the free item Engineeringtool can be used to design frames and racks based on item components, without a particularly powerful computer. This online tool is located in the cloud, so all that’s needed to use it is an end device with internet access and a standard browser. Thanks to intuitive drag-and-drop controls and intelligent automatic processes, standardised design work can be completed up to 94% faster than with CAD software. When it comes to coordinating with other project participants, globally unique project numbers offer a key advantage – they provide a direct view of designs via the item Engineeringtool’s Projectviewer. This makes compatibility problems, such as the ones encountered when sharing CAD files, a thing of the past. The fully digital process makes life easier for everyone involved. For example, the direct link to the item Shop means the company’s purchasing department also saves time. Obtaining estimates for constructions and rough costings for future projects are both much faster.
Benefits of digitalisation – simplified work steps and new business models
As already explained, digitalisation has two basic benefits for companies. On the one hand, it leads to the digital transformation of existing processes and, on the other, it creates new data-based business models. The ease with which content can be created or input, data accessed and shared, and tasks automated opens up great potential for streamlining work steps. In terms of administrative work, paperless offices that use only digital documentation have proved particularly effective. If companies use digital infrastructures, tools and technologies as part of a continuous improvement process, they also gather valuable experience that can later be drawn on when developing new business models. The best-known new business models in the mechanical engineering sector include developing IoT-enabled machines (IoT = Internet of Things) and online configurators, new kinds of subscription and pay-per-use models, and virtual reality. Many of these innovative business models are found in Industry 4.0.
Generating project documentation automatically in the item Engineeringtool results in a time saving of 90%.
The automation aspect can also be illustrated using the example of the item Engineeringtool. Once the design is complete, the manual documentation step normally comes next. It can take two hours or more to prepare a dimensioned drawing, a parts list and a machining plan. The item Engineeringtool takes care of all these steps – all it takes is a single click and the documentation is generated automatically. Users can choose between compact, detailed or complete documentation. Ultimately, the time saving compared with manual preparation is 90%. Another advantage of this tool is that it helps not just design engineers, but also the fitters on site. An animated 3D assembly guide in the Projectviewer automatically displays step-by-step recommendations for assembling the components. What’s more, cooperation with other industry players involved in digitalisation creates valuable synergies and, ideally, links business models. item, for instance, is working with cooperation partners such as the Center Connected Industry (CCI) on the RWTH Aachen Campus, the Adaptive Manufacturing Open Solutions (ADAMOS) GmbH network, ipolog, a provider of material supply planning software, and Halocline, a virtual reality start-up.
Knowledge transfer and training – far more flexible online
New digital tools also offer a whole host of advantages when it comes to training. Although every company has valuable in-house know-how, unless it is processed appropriately, this information remains in the relevant departments or even with specific individuals. That makes interdisciplinary and interdepartmental collaboration more difficult. Digitalisation provides helpful tools and technologies to break down the barriers of data/knowledge silos by sharing data democratically. Even standard cloud services such as Google Drive can now be used to document knowledge in an uncomplicated way and make it available on a centralised basis. In-house wikis that process know-how in the form of a digital encyclopaedia offer an even more sophisticated option. All employees can edit company wikis, thereby creating a valuable digital body of knowledge that is continuously being expanded and can be used whenever and wherever required.
The item Academy offers everything from online mechanical engineering training courses and product guides that can be used at work benches, through to practical tips and webinar recordings.
It’s a similar story as regards the use of external suppliers for online training in sectors such as mechanical engineering. A remarkable transformation has taken place here, too. For example, any attempt to introduce lean production throughout a company by using a traditional approach soon reaches its limits. After all, as many staff as possible at the company need to attain the same level of knowledge quickly by means of high-quality information in different languages. Thanks to the item Academy’s online modules providing an introduction to lean production, employees can now obtain flexible online training in seven different languages. This specifically avoids any difficulties finding the necessary space and personnel for training. Basically speaking, the item Academy offers everything from online mechanical engineering training courses and product guides that can be used at work benches through to practical tips and webinar recordings. There is no charge whatsoever – all that is needed is a free item user account. The product guides and selected webinars are even available without registering. Just by using a digital service offering of this kind, companies are gaining vital initial experience when it comes to optimising their own processes. Digitalisation has a mind-boggling variety of benefits, but there’s no need to feel intimidated – simply take the first steps!
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