Riding the Digital Wave to Enable Next Generation Product Development!

On Google search engine, the average monthly search volume of the word ‘digital’ is in the range of 10K to 1 Mn. It is one of the most talked about word in CXO community, across verticals and geographies. While the penetration would be different in different verticals; it is on the agenda of global manufacturers and service providers. Right from exploring what digital means for my business to what impact does it have on my business and what new business opportunities it can create? Though the word digital has different angles, in this blog post we will focus on digital thread and digital twin.

“Digital Thread is the creation and use of a digital surrogate of a materiel system to allow dynamic, real-time assessment of the system’s current and future capabilities to inform decisions in the Capability Planning and Analysis, Preliminary Design, and Detailed Design, Manufacturing, and Sustainment acquisition phases. The digital surrogate is a physics-based technical description of the weapon system resulting from the generation, management, and application of data, models, and information from authoritative sources across the system’s life cycle’. (SAF/AQR Definition 09/2013)

Next Generation Product Development

The traditional NPI cycle in any industry has distinct silos as design manufacturing and service functions. Besides, these functions are typically outsourced or carried out through various partner networks across the globe. Industry is focusing on various initiatives to connect these different worlds together for flawless exchange of data across these functions.

We can imagine Digital thread as the perfect solution to the above challenge in any NPI cycle. But the question is how to realize this dream?

The first step would be digitizing engineering efforts by adopting model based definition (MBD) and Model Based Engineering (MBE). So, basically transforming the complete product definition stored in multi-CAD and PLM environment into 3D models which can be consumed downstream, enabling model based manufacturing (MBM). The extension of this is to drive systems engineering through this model based definition which is model based systems engineering.

Another focus area is intersection between engineering and manufacturing department. When there is a focus on seamless exchange between design and manufacturing, you can adopt Design for Manufacturability (DFM), Design for Cost (DFC) and Design for Service (DFS) strategies which will support the digital thread vision.

On the manufacturing side, companies should continue to invest in upgrading their plants and they should be able to simulate all their plants to understand inherent capabilities, what products they can build and most importantly identify the gaps that needs to be addressed. Real time operational intelligence capabilities of the plant and visibility in the shop floor is crucial. To reap the full benefits of Industry 4.0, companies should invest in automation and sensors to increase operational efficiency. These investment should be intended to enable remote monitoring and preventive maintenance of factory assets.

From usage perspective, product health monitoring by continuously tracking, measuring, and reporting the status of critical systems and components of the product, so reliability/maintenance issues can be identified and corrected before they become failure – and gain insights into product usage patterns. These insights, through feedback loop can add significant value to product design.

Last but not the least is the tighter integration with suppliers. With increasing supplier content, manufacturing should re-look at the collaboration strategy with supply base. While most companies pursue some sort of collaboration with their suppliers, but mostly those are focused on operational efficiency leaving opportunities for innovation. It shouldn’t be just focused on cost and time, in addition it should focus on joint innovation and risk sharing. Manufacturing companies should figure out ways to effectively ‘partner’ with their supplier base.

In my view, this is one of the most disruptive trend and will redefine the way currently products are designed, manufactured and serviced. This digital thread can enable creating digital twin or real time digital clone of the product. It is important to understand that this is a marathon and not a sprint. It needs systematic approach and open mindset to adopt new processes and technologies. I am sure, as companies embark this journey, they will start getting benefits like reduced time to market, optimized cost and ultimately resulting into brining innovative products faster to the market with improved customer experience. Also, it would be interesting to see, the role of start-ups and non-traditional players, as companies are trying to digitize everything and connecting the dots.

The digital thread is going to change our future and business models of the future. We should not be surprised if we see different prominent players dominating the market in future than the traditional or familiar names in automotive industry or to that matter in several other sectors.

With Smart Products, Smart Manufacturing and Smart Services, the world would be a different world, today’s science fictions are tomorrow’s realities and with “Digital” focus, the tomorrow is shaping now. It’s no longer tomorrow!





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Narendra Pitre

Global Practices Head,
Geometric Ltd.

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