Data is becoming all the more relevant in all parts of the daily business. In SKF data plays a major role also in manufacturing, allowing all parts of the manufacturing process to be linked, from engineering to the customer. Here Patrik Dahlman, SKF Director Manufacturing & Process Development shares how SKF is modernising its process for a smart manufacturing.

The SKF super-precision app enables users to access relevant data simply by scanning a QR code. Unique data for the specific bearing and its configurations are all there, including when and where a bearing was manufactured. It’s a neat example of the impact data is having on modern manufacturing, where the data needed to simplify the customers’, business is easily available.

The super-precision app – and other applications like it - are enabling SKF to share and gather data on a scale like never before. Solutions like these are vital tools in the construction of what we call the digital thread. Digital thread for SKF in manufacturing is to be considered in two ways. The vertical integration which brings data from the infrastructure through controls systems and all the way to ERP systems, where the main purpose is to get the data and use it to control and improve manufacturing operations. This vertical integration is then connected to the horizontal integration which creates a connection of the entire value chain from engineering, through suppliers, manufacturing and distribution to the customer. It enables data to be matched all the way from the engineering process through to manufacturing, the customer and then all the way back again.

The data is elevating our understanding of SKF customer’s applications, which in turn enables us to greatly improve our design and processes to create optimised solutions. Connecting data at the customer application delivers insights into variations of factors like rotation or heat, creating understanding that enables us to deliver application specific products to our customers, faster and with increased value. The digital thread enables more insights, e.g., SKF is collecting the data throughout the value chain to create a complete transparency of the entire supply chain. The entry point to this traceability is the marking on the bearing itself. Our customers can obtain a forensic understanding of their products, including their tolerances, mounting instructions, pairing recommendations and much more.

These applications are successes in a broader SKF strategy to implement intelligent manufacturing at scale. Of course, the data itself is not valuable until it is used to create insights, which SKF is doing by using pilots to better understand what’s possible.

SKF is investing heavily in digital transformation of our manufacturing sites. Already now highly advanced factories are in place, some examples are in Airasca and Cassino, where the digital transformation and automation has significantly increased their performance level. SKF is working on deploying more solutions this year with the goal to have intelligent manufacturing rolled out in most of our factories by 2025.

"The core of the digital transformation is to find the right balance between technology, process and people"

The core of the digital transformation is to find the right balance between technology, process and people. Only the right balance of all three will enable SKF to unlock the potential power of digitalisation to improve its processes. That includes raising awareness throughout the company so that the entire workforce is prepared to embrace change, optimizing and standardizing the processes and selecting the right technology to fit SKF’s needs. There are of course specific technology challenges, one of which is connecting the legacy equipment. SKF has approximately 500 machining channels and modernising all of them at once is not possible. SKF is therefore working with brownfield connectivity to gather data together seamlessly.

The aim is to enable factories make real-time decisions autonomously while being managed centrally. The HCI enables teams to leverage the advantages of both cloud technology and on-site Edge computing. Calculations needed in real time within the factory can be carried out immediately on the premises, while allowing for more complex tasks to run via the cloud, where more computing power is available on demand.

One of SKF Lead factories, in Airasca, is providing evidence of how intelligent manufacturing can create value. One of our customers from the racing industry needs to make fast changes to its solutions, to be able to be successful in their business. Finding answers to RFQs or methods for very technical requests can take several weeks, but in the case of this customer the use of the digital thread the lead time inquiry to response was reduced to a couple of days. That kind of flexibility is truly a game-changer.

None of this would be possible without our people, who are meeting these challenges with enthusiasm. These working methods require a new mindset with focused change management. It’s about making a LEAN and digital transformation to come away from gut feeling to fact-based decision making.