What Digital Transforms Physical Means for Manufacturing
Written By: Nancy White
10/28/2021 Read Time : 4 min

$453 billion.

That’s the expected worldwide spend, this year alone, by discrete and process manufacturers on digital transformation solutions, according to IDC’s Worldwide Digital Transformation Spending Guide.

In fact, manufacturers are the single largest segment investing in these technologies. The pandemic has only accelerated adoption of these technologies and highlighted the need to use digital innovation to transform business processes, employee productivity, and business resiliency.

PTC’s Manufacturing Live put a spotlight on this industry and showcased how digital technologies are transforming the physical aspects of the industrial enterprise – things like factories, production lines, and workforce.

Jim Heppelmann, PTC’s President and CEO, was joined by Chief Technology Officer Steve Dertien to talk about how PTC’s portfolio of technologies is driving impactful results in manufacturing and operations. Each technology stands on its own as a tool to transform the physical world:

  • With our CAD technologies, we help customers use digital to define physical products.
  • With PLM, we help customers use digital to manage physical assets.
  • With IoT, we help customers use digital to connect physical, both for the products they make, and for the assets they use in their factories.
  • With augmented reality, we help customers use digital to augment physical spaces for the benefit of their frontline workers.

(For more of a breakdown of what these technologies’ capabilities, check out this post.)

However, there are more possibilities for optimizing assets and equipment, increasing the productivity of workers, and improving quality when these technologies are used together. For this post, we’ll share how our portfolio of digital technologies solves complex – and pervasive – challenges facing the manufacturing industry now and in the future.

Digital Thread in Manufacturing

One of the most powerful examples of our technologies working together is through the digital thread.

For industrial companies, a digital thread is used to create a closed loop between digital and physical aspects of their business. When the digital tools and processes that are utilized across the lifecycle of a product are connected, the knowledge gleaned from one activity can be shared upstream and downstream to inform other activities.

This is "closing the loop" – it enables continuity of data across departments and collaboration across functions to improve the product, the physical processes like production, and empower the people involved at every step.

Manufacturers all over the world face increasing demands from customers – a desire for customization and shorter timelines for delivery. As a result, products can have thousands of configurations, leading to greater complexity all along the value chain. In order to handle these customer and market shifts, manufacturers need to have visibility into what’s happening upstream in engineering (i.e. design changes, configurations) in order to perform their function effectively. With a firm handle on information that a company is producing upstream in engineering, companies can accelerate downstream benefits in manufacturing and service when they’re able to preserve the continuity and change of data.

Volvo Group, one of the world’s largest manufacturers of commercial trucks, buses, and construction equipment, has undertaken a digital thread strategy to manage configuration complexity and scale downstream manufacturing and service benefits from their data.

To do this, they are transitioning all their CAD and PLM tools to a single provider: PTC. Earlier this year, Volvo Group announced PTC’s Creo and Windchill solutions would serve as their primary CAD and PLM technologies. With this shift, Volvo will continue to build out a robust digital thread and various use cases. With the support of digital thread, they’ve been able to incorporate augmented reality to help train and guide quality assurance operators.

Digital Performance Management

Whether you are trying to optimize across a fleet of physical products out in the field at your customer sites, or across the physical assets in your factories, there is no better way to find efficiencies than to connect these assets via IoT and leverage their telemetry data.

By knitting together the capabilities of the IoT to monitor and predict, in a closed-loop continuous improvement process, you can then appreciate how digital optimizes physical.

A new solution from PTC, ThingWorx Digital Performance Management, is specifically designed to deliver the insight companies need to drive manufacturing throughput. It allows enterprises to monitor a process in an industrial setting, identify the largest bottlenecks, understand the nature of the problem and the associated losses, then implement, track, and measure actions or countermeasures that drive improvement.

Thanks to the closed-loop nature you can step back and verify the efficacy of those changes using the real-time process monitoring dashboards.

You probably know that in any complex process, behind the worst bottleneck stands the second worst bottleneck that was previously invisible. With DPM, enterprises can apply the same methodology to each next-worst bottleneck in a continuous process improvement process that will dramatically improve the efficiency of that industrial process.

Spatial Computing

While PTC has a robust portfolio of technologies already, our PTC Reality Lab is actively researching and developing the next digital technologies to transform the industrial enterprise.

One of the key areas the PTC Reality Lab is researching is spatial computing and how, through the use of computer vision and other technologies, manufacturers can leverage insights in the way that people work and interact with machines, material, and the spaces that they’re in.

Check out the video to see Anna Fuste, PTC Principal Innovation Engineer, performing an operation. As you watch the video, the view will shift to layer analytics on how she’s working in relation to the things around her. Ultimately, the goal with these types of insights is provide real-time visibility into performance in ways that support workers and optimize processes.

Final Thoughts

This blog captures just a sliver of how digital technologies are transforming the physical world. With digital transformation becoming a centerpiece effort of the most advanced industrial enterprise, identifying the right technologies and partner is essential.

"Collectively, this is the portfolio of technology needed to transform all the physical aspects of your business processes, from optimizing assets and equipment, to increasing the productivity of workers, and improving quality,” Heppelmann said during his Manufacturing Live keynote.

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Tags: Industrial Internet of Things Product Lifecycle Management (PLM) Digital Thread Digital Transformation PTC Reality Lab
About the Author Nancy White

Nancy White is the content marketing manager for the Corporate Brand team at PTC. A journalist turned content marketer, she has a diverse writing background—from Fortune 500 companies to community newspapers—that spans more than a decade.