Digital Thread • February 18, 2016

Digital Thread Connects Four in Manufacturing

Naveen Poonian Naveen Poonian

Digital Thread Connects FourManufacturers have the unrelenting need to innovate and create products faster with higher levels of quality. A major problem that stands in the way of accomplishing these goals are the preexisting silos throughout the product lifecycle value chain.

Every manufacturer has a set of four integral departments involved throughout the manufacturing lifecycle:

  1. Design Engineering
  2. Manufacturing Engineering
  3. Quality Assurance
  4. Operations Management

These four disciplines each have their own unique sets of requirements, systems, and data. In the current market, there is little to no integration, collaboration, and standardization between these departments which makes each department work as disparate systems with unrelated data sets. However, with a visionary mindset, there is hope to solve this disconnect by linking production systems with a unified digital thread.

To understand where manufacturers need to improve, one must understand the current landscape.

  1. Design engineers often create designs in Product Lifecycle Management (PLM) systems. These tools enable engineers to create products in a virtual setting to validate that designs can match up to reality.
  2. Manufacturing engineers take these outputted designs from the PLM and translate the information into their own Manufacturing Operations Management (MOM) and Manufacturing Execution Systems (MES). However, design definitions created in the PLM do not always map one-to-one to the manufacturing shop floor instructions because most manufacturing engineers have to manually translate product specifications into their system leaving ample room for translation errors or missed cross references. To complicate matters, specifically in complex discrete manufacturing, these designs can undergo thousands of engineering changes after the initial design is made. Every time a change is made in engineering, it is not immediately communicated to production and vice versa. To manage the volume of change and avoid creating chaos, changes must be grouped and their cut-in effectivities managed. Daily or weekly meetings are usually held to ensure that production personnel become aware of the changes. Along the way, with many manual steps, it is easy for some changes to get missed in the shuffle of processes managed through paper forms, log books and emails. It is easy to find shop floor workers working to stale instructions, which in turn leads to rework costs further down the line when subassemblies do not come together as expected.
  3. Quality management in manufacturing has a particularly daunting task of ensuring products are made according to the correct specifications. Since products with numerous associations confront multiple changing layers, quality control becomes a moving target with evolving data sets. Dimensions, characteristics and suppliers are constantly changing as the product flushes out its design through its lifecycle. Trying to manage quality control of thousands of components from a range of suppliers each with their own set of data adds enormous complexity to the mix.
  4. Operations management is also a critical component to manufacturing. Many organizations hold the Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) responsible for handling the flow of costs, resources, and logistics. But an ERP is only as good as the data it is given. If a design changes resulting in lost or added components and parts, then the resource/cost requirements change as well. Most of the time, PLM and ERP solutions are only loosely coupled if not integrated at all. Part numbers may be sometimes communicated but engineering changes are not. Without this direct link, how can an ERP manage resources and costs efficiently? The answer is, it doesn’t. And it would take a full-time team to manually report to the ERP the thousands of changes that occur in order to get close to accurate resource planning and actual cost traceability. Manufacturing Process Management (MPM) and Manufacturing Operations Management (MOM) solutions can help fill these integration gaps.

Harmonizing the manufacturing ecosystem requires integrating systems through a digital thread which maintains cross reference and integrity to the “single source of truth” in the product design definition coming from engineering.  More specifically, we refer to the 3D Model Based Enterprise where the data coming out of CAD system is systematically referenced and dissected by downstream consumer systems through non-human accurate translation mechanisms. This requires integration between Product Lifecycle Management (PLM), Manufacturing Operations and Manufacturing Execution Systems (MOM & MES), Enterprise Quality Management Systems (EQMS) and Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) systems.

Companies are already coming to the realization that operating to a single digital thread of data puts everyone on the same page. By pushing teams to work with the same data stream, disparate organizations can begin to engage in a closed-loop ecosystem where information flows smoothly between various departments and systems. By working with the same data stream, each department becomes aware of the modifications and cut-in effectivities in real-time as changes are made along the value chain.

This synchronization with digital thread is becoming the new reality for manufacturers. It behooves all players take a closer look at how they can begin to take the right steps towards this digital revolution. Afterall, you must connect four to win!