Manufacturers in Asia are bridging the offline and virtual worlds

Today, a new generation of tech-savvy innovators and business leaders is bringing creativity, originality, and digital knowledge to transform the way manufacturing is done — and making Asia a global innovation and disruptive force in its own right.

Research shows how Asian manufacturers are at the forefront of this push to reshape the region as a powerhouse for economic growth. McKinsey found that from 2008 to 2018, Asia accounted for 51% of global growth in research and development expenditure. The same study also found that Asia had a 48% share of artificial intelligence patents and accounted for 42% of global start-up investment in AI technologies. The pandemic has further accelerated digital transformation.

Many manufacturers are now harnessing cutting-edge approaches such as augmented and mixed reality, miniaturisation, microfluidics, sensor technologies, and digital twins. Years of Asian innovation in designing and building products based on these technologies has also produced industry-leading insights into how to develop the foundations of the industrial metaverse.

This is where manufacturers draw on a combination of mobile devices, mixed-reality capabilities, and next-generation networks to create detailed virtual replicas of almost anything physical, from products to complex environments. The industrial metaverse can also enable direct interaction with others via highly personalised avatars.

A King Steel worker on the factory floor of King Steel using HoloLens 2. Image courtesy of Microsoft.

Bridging offline and online realities in this way can transform manufacturers’ abilities to automate, simulate, troubleshoot — and eventually predict — future states of assets or environments. It also means optimised business processes, greater employee efficiency and empowerment, and better customer experiences.

The following are examples of how manufacturers in Asia put these innovations into practice and unlock new ways of creating products and doing business. 

Kawasaki Heavy Industries: transforming business processes

Japan-based heavy industrial development company KHI manufactures motorcycles, heavy equipment, aerospace, and defence equipment, amongst other things. It is also an innovator when it comes to deploying industrial robotics.

Today, KHI is creating an industrial metaverse solution that brings its distributed workforce together with a network of connected equipment and facilities. It’s achieving this by creating digital models and replicas of the real world.

With this solution connecting KHI’s global workforce, company experts can better troubleshoot issues remotely and share findings over multiple sites. That’s helping to increase efficiencies, while boosting employee and customer satisfaction.

Meanwhile, digital twins’ technology for virtual modelling is making it easier for KHI employees to investigate issues and conduct a wide range of processes — from product design to testing, deployment and maintenance — in a virtual space. Again, this is helping KHI expedite business processes, enhance collaboration, and improve safety, all while reducing costs.

Avatars checking a digital twin in the virtual space. Image courtesy of Microsoft.

The impact of developing these strong foundations of the industrial metaverse has been transformative for KHI, but as the organisation acknowledges, it is only the beginning.

“We would like to further realise this new world of industrial metaverse,” says Yasuhiko Hashimoto, KHI’s President and CEO. 

Procter & Gamble: saving costs and boosting quality control

Another example that comes to mind is global consumer goods manufacturer P&G, which recently embarked on a major transformation to accelerate and expand its digital manufacturing platform.

The result? A significant boost in quality control and a marked reduction in costs.

At P&G’s site in Akashi, Japan — the company is deploying machine learning to reduce downtime, minimise scrap, and lower maintenance expenses in the diaper manufacturing process.

P&G is also using  IoT to deliver high-speed analytics, helping it to continuously monitor diaper production lines and provide early detection of potential problems. This improves cycle times and operator productivity, ensures quality, and reduces rework losses.

During the COVID pandemic, P&G used mixed-reality technology to help manufacturing line employees across the globe stand up a new product line, remotely.

“Technology today offers massive opportunities to build superior solutions that can solve the daily problems of billions of consumers around the world and make their lives better,” says P&G CIO, Vittorio Cretella.

“(This is why) we are implementing this technology at hundreds of manufacturing sites around the world. Industries co-developing and co-innovating with new age technologies will allow us to overcome many challenges,” he added.

King Steel: developing customised manufacturing solutions 

We’re witnessing industry 4.0 in the flesh, where manufacturers are not just transforming legacy businesses but going a step beyond to continue applying technologies such as augmented and mixed reality, sensor technologies, and digital twins.

King Steel Machinery, which was founded in Taichung, Taiwan, in the 1970s is a heartwarming story of family businesses that adopted new technologies yet benefited from its legacy experience. For King Steel, success came from designing and building precision shoemaking machinery for big-name footwear brands.

Recently, however, Vice President for Business Development Jim Chen identified a shift in the market: Footwear brands were looking for more than just machinery. They also wanted customised manufacturing solutions, data insights, and sustainable outcomes.

As a result, Chen embarked on an extensive digital transformation process to troubleshoot and maintain its equipment on the factory floors of its customers.

It is also using collaboration tools for faster and better research, as well as digital twins technology to make the entire value chain transparent, reducing material waste and saving energy. Some shoe factories lose inventory when unofficial shoes get produced to be sold on the black market. Digital twins help factories precisely manage the whole value chain.

Additionally, King Steel is making the most of custom data solutions to boost its manufacturing services. The company started mining equipment data, such as how injection moulding machines work and how changing materials can achieve new results. Employees now collect parameters such as temperature, pressure, and input quantity, which they use to bring new insights to their clients.

“Digital transformation is the process of choosing the right digital tools,” Chen said. “My family elders who started this company have been supportive. Both customers and employees have felt the impacts and benefits.”

Working towards a prosperous future 

As these examples show, technology is a powerful catalyst for Asia’s economic growth and one that is creating new benefits and experiences for customers and employees.

Technology service providers across the region play an important role in this economic transformation, while innovations such as hyperscale cloud, AI, and mixed reality continue to enable Asian manufacturers to evolve and deliver better business outcomes.

Ongoing collaboration will enable organisations to continue their digital transformation journey while building prosperity for the region.