August 12, 2019
MEP National NetworkTM
Traditional business methods used throughout manufacturing organizations are siloed — departments are segmented based on tasks and use software that is incompatible with other work groups. Even manufacturing operations that have adopted modern technologies face problems when they’ve focused on existing workflows instead of evolving the entire enterprise. The digital thread exists only if new technology comes with a new vision.
The challenge with siloed data is that its flow is largely a one-way street, meaning very little to no collaboration occurs between the different stages of a product’s lifecycle. This lack of information sharing robs a company of the chance for shorter development and validation times, as well as opportunities to improve product performance and quality. Potential manufacturing problems can’t be identified until the actual manufacturing stage, at which point the design team may need to restart the entire development schedule. And downstream teams may miss critical information during handoffs, or contribute work that does not meet the requirements of the customer.
These issues can be resolved with an integrated approach to product development and lifecycle management enabled by digital manufacturing and design (DM&D).
The DM&D-Enabled Product Lifecycle
An interconnected data system throughout a product’s lifecycle creates a shared database where individual groups enhance one another’s work to maximize an organization’s full potential, transforming individual departments into a unified team. DM&D is the key to unlocking that potential.
When a company implements a DM&D system, it connects each lifecycle phase from inception, through engineering design and manufacture, to service and disposal of product. And a DM&D-enabled product lifecycle not only syncs those phases which have traditionally been isolated, but it can also create connections across the supply chain.
DM&D at Product Launch
Think about a product launch: An organization collaborates with a customer to establish a product’s requirements and create an estimated budget and timeline. These requirements cover the goals for the product, expected features, and essential capabilities. This is the foundation upon which all work will be performed.
DM&D technologies enable product requirements to be directly assessed using sophisticated software tools, and the entire product lifecycle can be simulated and optimized at the outset. This sophisticated digital system will help eliminate inaccurate costing, delayed quotes, disorganization, and the inherent risks of manual steps and guesswork.
DM&D During Production
A 3D model can be used to generate and optimize machine code, addressing problems before they hit the shop floor. Once manufacturing starts, parts can be tracked and inventoried throughout the facility by RFID systems or surface scans. Similarly, an assembly line can use DM&D to precisely track production and stock to minimize wasted inventory and eliminate costly and time-consuming audits. And as connected devices inspect parts, measurements can be uploaded to identify approaching tolerance limits and trigger automatic adjustments to bring the next part back to specifications.
Digital product layouts and instructions are easily — and instantly — revised as processes are refined. Meanwhile, confusing and often outdated instruction manuals can be replaced by augmented-reality assistance that guides a worker through complex tasks. Embedded diagnostics and remote process monitoring can even raise worker awareness of potential problems and their solutions.
DM&D & Product Performance
The final stage of a product lifecycle is granted one last boon through DM&D: better data and the smarter decisions that can be made with it. From washing machines to car parts, traditional end-of-life stages provide no accurate feedback on product performance or failure. A connected product provides feedback while it is deployed, enabling a manufacturer to analyze performance while a product is being used, and alert customers when a part needs replacement.
And at the end of a product’s lifecycle, DM&D can even enable a product to trigger guidance for how to break itself down into reusable components and recyclable materials, minimizing landfill waste.
Welcome to the digital age of manufacturing.
About the Author
Dave Boulay is the president of the Illinois Manufacturing Excellence Center (IMEC). Part of the MEP National Network TM, IMEC is a public-private partnership with the mission to be a catalyst for transforming the state of manufacturing.