We stepped over the first two industrial revolution cycles, when the former focused on introducing hydraulic and steam to empower manufacturing process and the later introduced the more powerful electricity for mass production. Things became interesting, when we marched towards the third industrial revolution in the beginning of 21st century, where automation and information technology took over the manual jobs and manufacturing process became smarter. Products that took months to get ready were manufactured within days with help of modern engineering tools and intelligent robots. However, though the manufacturing process became leaner during the third revolution, it was still not sufficient as the product complexity kept increasing. Increasing market volatility, short product life cycles, higher product complexity forced manufacturing companies to adapt to more flexible and become responsive to business trends.
There was an immediate urge to merge the physical and digital world in the manufacturing chain that will dramatically change the way products are being manufactured. This lead to “fourth industrial revolution” aka “Industry 4.0”. The first three industrial revolutions came about because of mechanization, electricity and information technology. Now, the introduction of the Internet of Things and Services into the manufacturing environment is driving the “fourth industrial revolution”. The “Industry 4.0” started to build upon the solid foundation laid by the usage of powerful microcomputers that automated the manufacturing process, when technology took over. These autonomous are increasingly being wirelessly networked with each other and with the Internet. This is resulting in the convergence of the physical world and the digital world in the form of Cyber-Physical Systems (CPS) and is commonly called Internet of Things (IoT).
How current PLM systems should react to Industry 4.0?
PLM practice had evolved in the last past two decades from a very humble drawing management system to laying the base for an enterprise IT along with its counterparts such as ERP and SCM. While Industry 4.0 focuses on the trends of really intelligent things talking to each other through IoT, cloud, big data, etc. there is a need to mature with our PLM practice, to combine the end to end process from the manufacturer through to the customer with new advanced business models.
Support Smarter Products:
Current products are more than just a piece of hardware. While we talk about machine learning, artificial intelligence, IoT etc. these products constitute complex systems such as communication interfaces, smart sensors, embedded software and supporting apps. From product manufacturing perspective, this means that conventional products should be transformed to smart ones as well. This also forces further investment in cloud networking to setup secure link-up for expanded product functions.
While current PLM systems manages the product data and associated process data such as requirements, quality, project managements and so on, this simply does not suffice to meet the demanding needs. There is an immediate need for development of an integrated system that links the current PLM systems and the apps, user-interfaces, cloud services including backend systems, to apply cognitive insights for staggering data loaded into the system.
Support Smarter Factories:
Standard definition for a smart factory goes as below
“An individual company or an association of companies that uses ICT (Information and Communications Technology) for product development, production systems engineering, production, logistics and coordination of interfaces to the customer in order to be able to react more flexibly to demands. The smart factory masters complex processes, is less prone to disruption, and increases production efficiency. It goes without saying that people, machines, and resources communicate in the smart factory just as in a social network.” (source: working committee for Industry 4.0).
While we talk about, to setup smart factories for producing smart products, a key challenge in the production line is not just about manufacturing the hardware piece itself, but also other associated activities such as logistics, quality management, inventory & warehouse management etc. get smarter as well. This in-turn urges a need for a smarter and in-depth integration between current PLM systems with other enterprise software such as ERP, MES, SCM, EAM etc.
Support Smarter Service:
Smart product requires a smart service as well. With PLM as a backbone driving the product’s complete lifecycle, it is necessary to regulate diagnostic and error data across various products and service organizations to effectively evaluate service data in the development department. A smart PLM system also should provide product data for technical documentation and maintenance planning. With IoT in place, it is vital our current PLM systems captures feedback from the product service and provides easy flashback access to the product data, to debug a product issue.
To conclude, Industrial Internet is next generation of the Internet. Merging the physical world with digital world of the product manufacturing process is an ongoing process. Current PLM systems support better the growing need for alliance during the development of smart, connected products by introducing a “DIGITAL THREAD” in the product lifecycle chain. (We will discuss, about this intelligent communication framework in the product lifecycle called “Digital Thread” in the next article)