Digital manufacturing only for big companies?

Digital manufacturing only for big companies?

Welcome to “Ask Deb from QA,” a new column from MxD.

Every week, Deb from QA — with decades of experience on the factory floor — will answer your questions to demystify and explain the digital manufacturing industry.

Please submit your questions to

Dear Deb: Isn’t digital manufacturing only for big companies with big budgets?

I don’t want to age myself, but ol’ Deb here remembers the days when she had a TV with only five channels. I was perfectly content with my antenna TV — as long as I had Dallas and Wheel of Fortune, I was a happy camper. 

The idea of getting cable felt unnecessary. I was satisfied with the status quo. Of course, I eventually gave in. Suddenly having 30 more channels on television opened new worlds for me. I mean, MTV and HBO!  And it didn’t cost all that much. 

Diving into the world of digital manufacturing is also something you can do at a reasonable cost. And it’s a plunge worth taking, because it will save your company time and money in the long run.

Let’s say you have a manual assembly line. Your output is counted by human eyeballs and inputted into a computer. For a relatively low cost (like that of a 22-inch TV), your company can buy a sensor retrofit kit. What exactly can that do? You place a proximity sensor at the end of the factory line, and it automatically tracks each product coming off the line.  

If for some reason that line goes down, you don’t have to wait two hours for someone to tell you; you’ll know it in real time. Or, it’ll tell you how long your machines are on. Or which shift is the most productive.

Now, a sensor without a computer is like eyes without a brain. And even those computers are becoming incredibly cheap — I’m talking under $50! Open-source, low-cost microcomputers like Raspberry Pi, Arduino or BeagleBone are used to teach high schoolers about computers, and they’re sophisticated enough to work in your operations.

For under $400 (and getting cheaper by the month), you’ll be able to gather and interpret data, then identify opportunities where your company can become more efficient. This can pay for itself many, many times over. 

So no, digital manufacturing isn’t just for big companies with big budgets. You can get started for basically the price of six months of cable TV.

Assuring quality,

Check out last week’s Ask Deb here:
Where are manufacturing jobs?

Deb from QA wants to hear your questions. Send ‘em to and she’ll answer as soon she’s done with her shift.