Survey Digital manufacturing in the aluminium industry on the rise

Author / Editor: Mike Seidensticker / Daniel Richter

The aluminium industry is getting ready for digitalisation and the implementation of Industry 4.0 technologies. Those are the findings of a survey of 240 aluminium experts from 39 countries conducted on the occasion of the Aluminium World Trade Fair 2018.

The aluminium industry is already well-positioned in the digital realm and reveals the ways companies are dealing with Industry 4.0 technologies.
The aluminium industry is already well-positioned in the digital realm and reveals the ways companies are dealing with Industry 4.0 technologies.
(Source: ALUMINIUM 2018)

The digital transformation and the path to intelligent production is one of the biggest challenges for industry, and the aluminium sector is no exception. The Aluminium trade fair survey shows that the aluminium industry is already well-positioned in the digital realm and reveals the ways companies are dealing with Industry 4.0 technologies.

Digital manufacturing is of very high to high significance for 85 per cent of the companies surveyed. Small companies (up to 9 employees) and large-scale industrial enterprises (5,000 employees and up) are particularly aware of the importance of digital technologies – they consider them most relevant.

Implementation levels vary

Implementation levels at companies vary, however: while 28 per cent of respondents are still in the information-gathering phase, just as many (28%) are currently in the process of developing a digital strategy. The first projects are being realised in 23 per cent of the surveyed companies. Meanwhile, 11 per cent of respondents are already comprehensively deploying Industry 4.0 projects.

“What is your company currently doing with regard to Industry 4.0 technologies”
“What is your company currently doing with regard to Industry 4.0 technologies”
(Source: ALUMINIUM 2018)

Digitalisation on the rise in production and R&D

Today, Industry 4.0 applications are primarily deployed in production (27%) and research & development (22%), followed by distribution (15%), logistics (13%) and the supply chain (12%).

Industry 4.0 technologies are used in production control (14%), the networking of machines (“Internet of Things”, 14%) and production processes (13%). At the same time, companies are also focussed on linking up with partners (11%) and on mobile devices (11%) and cloud computing (9%).

In the opinion of the respondents, networking with customers and/or external partners is getting more and more important. So far, however, only 28 per cent of the companies are systematically integrating their partners in the planning and/or implementation of their digital manufacturing strategy.

Differences by sector

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 digitalisation of individual production processes (38%) is their key concern. The same is true in mechanical and plant engineering (35%), where networked production control (35%) also plays an important role.

Companies in aluminium processing, such as those specialised in surface treatments, care about connecting with other partners (38%). Distributors feel similarly: as one would expect, they prioritise networking with customers (67%) and mobile devices (44%).

“Which Industry 4.0 technologies is your company already deploying today?"
“Which Industry 4.0 technologies is your company already deploying today?"
(Source: ALUMINIUM 2018)

The goal: Optimising the value chain

Efficient 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 aluminium 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. Digitalisation projects in the companies are currently being delayed primarily by high investment costs and too many unresolved implementation issues.

  • 62 per cent of companies already deploy or plan on deploying Industry 4.0 applications
  • The goal: Optimising the value chain
  • Large investments and open questions delay development
  • Industry Barometer survey conducted for Aluminium 2018

Aluminium 2018 to focus on digital manufacturing

Taking place in Düsseldorf from 9 to 11 October, this year’s Aluminium World Trade Fair will put a spotlight on the digital transformation and intelligent production processes. Introducing the new “Digital Manufacturing” special exhibition area, the trade fair is creating a forum aimed at demonstrating the productivity benefits provided by powerful IT solutions – from engineering software and systems to manufacturing software and machines to IT security and consulting. Aluminium and its exhibitors will also provide an overview of Industry 4.0 developments at the lecture forum and in guided exhibition tours.

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A total of 1,000 exhibitors and 27,000 visitors from 100 countries are expected to attend the world’s largest trade fair of the aluminium industry. Spread across six exhibition halls, Aluminium will showcase the industry’s complete range – from aluminium production to machines and plants for processing to finished goods and recycling.

About the survey

A total of 240 industry experts from 39 countries participated in Aluminium 2018’s survey “How digital is the aluminium industry already?” – including producers, processors, technology suppliers, and design and other engineers from user industries, representing small businesses, large-scale industrial enterprises and everything in-between.

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