Digital continuity helps industrial equipment manufacturers deliver better customer solutions

Many industrial equipment manufacturers struggle to ensure their product data is always accurate and up to date. Sophisticated business innovation platforms address the challenge, managing data as a continuous thread, improving workflows and boosting innovation.

Since moving its global design and engineering processes to a business innovation platform, 3CON, a global producer of manufacturing equipment for the automotive industry, has reduced the time required to develop a new machine by as much as 40%. The key to this success, said Hannes Auer, CEO of the Austria-based company, is that the platform gives 3CON’s workers instant access to every piece of information about every product as it moves from concept to design, engineering, manufacturing and postsales service, ensuring that the data is current, accurate and reliable.

It’s a concept known as digital equipment continuity and, like 3CON, most manufacturers recognize that it is critical for ensuring product quality, accelerating product development and boosting innovation. Yet the 2018 report, “Digital Engineering: The New Growth Engine for Discrete Manufacturers,” published by French consulting and technology business Capgemini, found that almost two-thirds of manufacturers struggle to achieve digital continuity. Indeed, most manufacturers call digital continuity their Number One challenge.

A MAJOR HURDLE

Although 3CON has achieved digital equipment continuity, Auer understands why it remains a struggle for so many.

“Manufacturers want to work with best-in class applications, but each application may use different data models, which means the data needs to be converted every time you move between applications,” he said. “Data conversions are inconvenient and time consuming, and at each translation stage you risk losing critical information about the product.”

“WE HAVE DIGITAL CONTINUITY THROUGH 80% OF OUR PROCESS, WHICH IS UP FROM 30% BEFORE SWITCHING TO OUR NEW PLATFORM.”

JEFF WALTERS VICE PRESIDENT OF ENGINEERING, GLOBE TRAILERS

Capgemini’s “Digital Engineering” report found that “six out of 10 organizations are unable to synchronize different functions’ activities early in the design and development stage. Around the same number also find it difficult to create, access and reuse information on how a product was designed, manufactured and serviced.”

Manufacturers who want to rationalize their existing systems, however, face a daunting challenge.

“Some product lifecycle management systems hold 20 years’ worth of data, all of which will need to be reviewed and rebuilt,” said Jacques Bacry, vice president PLM Group leader at Capgemini and one of the report’s lead authors. “Synchronizing and converging all of that data is an immense task.”

Yet it also is an inevitable one.

“As manufacturers continue to move toward virtualization and simulation within their production systems, they need to be able to pair that with real-world data to detect and correct issues before they happen, ensure process quality enhancements and improve worker and product safety,” Bacry said. “For this, strong digital continuity is paramount.”

FROM PIPE DREAM TO REALITY

For 3CON, the answer lay in moving its entire design and engineering process to a single platform with fully integrated applications for project management, 3D design, numerical control programming and simulation.

“We needed to be able to work with best-in-class applications, so we did a great deal of research before coming to our decision and trusting in one provider,” Auer said. “Today, we manage our entire production process on one platform. All our designers and engineers from around the world use the same data model. This information then carries through into our service department.” As a result, workers are free from interface issues and confident that the data they access is up to date.

“Moving from file-based management to our consolidated global database, the performance to load or update very large assemblies is incredible,” Auer said. “Workflows and user roles guarantee that our designers always have the latest version of the design available, regardless of who made the last change.”

CLOUD-BASED CONTINUITY

Like 3CON, US-based trailer manufacturer Globe Trailers has achieved digital continuity by shifting its entire operation to a unified platform – but Globe Trailers chose to do it on the cloud. That choice, said Jeff Walters, vice president of engineering, gives him peace of mind and ensures business continuity.

“Cloud technologies help by allowing resources to be moved from managing the server and back-end technology to rolling out front-end technology to the manufacturing floor and customers,” Walters said.

“We have digital continuity through 80% of our process, which is up from 30% before switching to our new platform. We have optimized our digital process so much that we were able to throw our giant printer in the trash.”

SAFER, MORE RELIABLE PRODUCTS

Digital continuity allows manufacturers to improve their processes and avoid repeating past mistakes – benefits that translate into better solutions for customers.

“It’s about more than saving time; the quality of our engineering is better,” 3CON’s Auer said. “In the past it was really hard to be sure that all the designers were working with the latest CAD data. Now, if someone changes something in the workflow, everyone working on that product is informed immediately. All lessons learned are integrated into the standard model.”

Digital continuity also enables new production methods and processes.

“If you can define right at the beginning of the engineering stage how a product is going to be manufactured, you can also imagine new methods to design and build it,” Capgemini’s Bacry said. “And if you’re able to simulate what’s happening in the factory, you’re able to very quickly customize your production line too.” ◆

by Rebecca Lambert Back to top
by Rebecca Lambert

For more information on digital continuity, please visit: https://go.3ds.com/gf2