With the advent of Industry 4.0, manufacturing companies are going through a fascinating era, where the digital wave unbolted fresh paths for enhancing the design process, improving the manufacturing cycle, and provide better service to end users. This smart factory ecosystem is growing continually and provide new possibilities to improve the NPI metrics and enhance operational efficiency of products that are already in use. Not limited to the product manufacturing companies, every industry has started adapting to digital systems to ensure upsurge in revenue.
Traditional manufacturing process, where departments operated in silos resulted in delayed responses and this linear process, where the cycle begins with engineering and then proceeds stepwise through manufacturing and product service will not be adequate going forward. To keep up pace with the speed at which changes are made to the product, manufacturers will have to manage efficiently the feedback loops that involve every step in the product lifecycle. To accomplish that, there is a need for manufacturers to consolidate all systems and processes in a digital product innovation platform and closing the silo processes by weaving a “Digital Thread” across them.
Weaving “Digital Thread” to merge physical world with digital ecosystem:
When a new product is to be introduced, first comes the design process. A team of CAD design engineers creates a 3D-Model of the specific parts and eventually build a digital assembly of the final product that is to be made.
A finalized 3D-Model is then digitally transferred to the “virtual manufacturing” engineering. Before physical production of the product, it is important o predetermine whether the manufactured finished good will survive various stresses and unforeseen operational conditions, when put to physical use. It is also vital to understand what trade-offs can be made to open the tolerance, to improve product efficiency. A manufacturing engineering process also simulates the factory flow, manufacturing controls and makes sure they are optimized before actual production starts.
Once the design is shaped and the manufacturing processes virtually realized, all those data get conveyed to the “Smart Factory” where intelligent machines translate this digital data to physically manufacture that part or product.
“Production Feedback” loop:
What happens when everything doesn’t go as planned? In an unhappy path a shop floor operator is bound to foresee the unexpected. Unforeseen situations like, when a machine breakdown or when the supplier does not add to the raw material inventory within the intended time, or whatever the other reasons that puts the manufacturing process deviate from envisioned path. A “Smart Factory” encompassing a digital thread, should respond to such problem and use predictive capability to react to problems before it even happens. Feedback from such situations should be fed back to the “virtual manufacturing” engineering to make modifications and improvements to the virtual simulation process.
“Design Feedback” loop:
After a product is sold to customer and used, it will need to be serviced. This stage of the product lifecycle provides lot of understandings about how the product is used, and whether the product meets the performance criteria envisioned during the design phase. Data collected from the products during service, are sent back to the design team for further analysis and understand how the product design can further be improved for better performance. A serviced part can be considered as a failure mode and “cause & effect” analytics helps to apply improvements to the design or manufacturing process.
Digital Thread – The future:
Thanks to IoT, with the help of network of intelligent things the feedback loops can be introduced to connect a product in physical world with its “Digital Twin”. If the feedback from a product showcase a part anomaly, the manufacturer can use that data to modify the product design for the future releases and adjusting the product manufacturing chain as needed. As we look ahead and advance with smart way of manufacturing, we see a creating a digital thread empowered by real time data pushes the boundaries of what’s possible in manufacturing process. Data is the value proposition that will define a product’s future.