Survey Results Reflect Digital Manufacturing On The Rise And Optimized Value Chain

August 20, 2018

ALUMINUM USA, the event dedicated to the United States aluminum industry, shared the results of a recent industry survey. Those are the findings of a barometer survey of 240 aluminum experts from 39 countries conducted on the occasion of the ALUMINIUM World Trade Fair 2018 held in Dusseldorf, Germany. 62% of companies are developing strategies or have reached the implementation phase of Industry 4.0 applications. Implementation offers reduced costs and improved efficiencies; greater speed, flexibility of scale. It means evolving to disruptive technology.


The digital transformation and the path to intelligent production is one of the biggest challenges for industries, and the aluminum sector is no exception. 85% of companies surveyed say digital manufacturing is of very high significance. Small companies (up to 9 employees) and large-scale industrial enterprises (5,000+ employees) are aware of the importance of digital technologies – they consider them “most relevant”.


Implementation levels at companies vary, however, while 28% of respondents are in the informationgathering phase, another 28% are currently in the process of developing a digital strategy. The first projects are being realized in 23% of the surveyed companies. 11% of respondents are already comprehensively deploying Industry 4.0 projects.


Today, Industry 4.0 applications are primarily deployed in production (27%) and R&D (22%), followed by distribution (15%), logistics (13%) and the supply chain (12%). Industry 4.0 technologies are used in production control (14%), the Internet of Things (14%) and production processes (13%). At the same time, companies are also focused on linking up with partners (11%), mobile devices (11%) and cloud computing (9%).

Fig:1Figure 1: “What is your company currently doing with regard to Industry 4.0 technologies? In the opinion of the respondents, networking with customers and/or external partners is growing in importance. So far, only 28% of companies are systematically integrating partners in the planning and/or implementation of digital manufacturing strategies.


When it comes to the use of digital solutions, one must differentiate between industrial sectors. The networking of machines (39%) and production control (37%) are considered most important in the production of materials and semi-finished goods. By contrast, manufacturers of components for user industries say the digitalization of individual production processes (38%) is key. The same is true in mechanical and plant engineering (35%), where networked production control (35%) also plays an important role.
Companies in aluminum processing, such as those specialized in surface treatments, care about connecting with other partners (38%). Distributors feel similarly: as one would expect, they prioritize networking with customers (67%) and mobile devices (44%). Figure 2: “Which Industry 4.9 technologies is at is your company currently deploying?


Fig:1Efficient production processes, increased productivity and enhanced collaboration within the supply chain are seen as the biggest advantages offered by Industry 4.0 applications. In addition, many of the respondents are hoping for closer relationships with partners and customers and expect faster and better connectivity with suppliers, improved customer support and faster response times, among other things.
Even though many companies are already planning and implementing projects, there is a strong need for know-how and best practices when it comes to digital manufacturing in the aluminum industry. Asked about the solutions companies are looking for right now, supply chain management was mentioned most often. There’s also strong demand for the networking of machines, robotic solutions, big data and online distribution processes. Manufacturers of semi-finished goods and extruded products, in particular, expressed a clear need for digital solutions. In this context, however, all of the respondents were also concerned about obstacles on the way to Industry 4.0. Digitalization projects in the companies are being delayed primarily due to investment costs and unresolved implementation issues.


A total of 240 industry experts from 39 countries participated in ALUMINIUM 2018’s survey “How Digital is the Aluminum Industry?” – including manufacturers, processors, technology suppliers, and engineers, design professionals and others from user industries, representing small businesses, large-scale industrial enterprises and everything in-between.