As companies seek to enable concurrent manufacturing it’s imperative they ensure an uninterrupted flow of digital information across geographically dispersed design centers, manufacturing plants, and suppliers. To date, many manufacturers have struggled to achieve this vision due to disconnected systems and processes. While software including ERP and MES are essential in manufacturing environments, much of it was not designed to seamlessly share information with other systems. Adding to that challenge is the fact that many of us are working from home.
Rather than collaborate and work effectively, employees waste significant time searching for information consumed by unproductive meetings and emails. It has never been more important to enable teams to work together by overcoming the challenges associated with data silos.
Enter the digital thread. The digital thread follows the product lifecycle. As such, it is a continuous flow of information from engineering to production through customer service and back to engineering. This thread is orchestrated and managed by Product Lifecycle Management (PLM) software as it weaves its way from product design to manufacturing and back to product design. Along the way, product design data is enriched with data from connected machines and enterprise systems such as ERP – for a complete digital twin of the physical product and manufacturing process. Essentially, the digital thread synchronizes relevant upstream and downstream data in real time in a contextual framework.
Imagine the possibilities with a closed-loop product lifecycle system that integrates PLM, ERP, and IoT, and captures all product changes and configuration information in real time.
Engineers can traverse the digital thread for:
They can harness it to reduce manual data manipulation, improve factory layout and flow, ensure fewer errors, and reduce inventory levels.
At the same time, manufacturing operations can call upon the digital thread to:
With a digital thread, manufacturers can collect product data, monitor processes and machines, and send information back to engineering for root cause analysis and corrective and preventative actions. Across all the complex relationships within their manufacturing plants – from engineers to machines to maintenance processes – they can design a system that unlocks insights and identifies patterns. In turn, they can continuously improve their products and processes.
Here’s an example of how a manufacturer capitalizes on its digital thread through end-to-end digital transformation.
VCST, a world-class automotive supplier of powertrain and brake components, identified several opportunities to implement smart factory initiatives to deliver value and drive innovation. To fuel these initiatives and reach its long-term objectives, it called upon PTC’s PLM software, Windchill, and ThingWorx IoT platform. By integrating Windchill and ThingWorx with its existing systems – including its SAP ERP system – VCST was able to build a closed-loop, collaboration platform using a flexible, modular, step-by-step approach.
By removing data silos and providing a single source of truth across engineering, operations, suppliers, and customers, VCST can now:
It can feel daunting to transform manufacturing. Yet manufacturers have extremely valuable data on hand that they can harness to quickly improve their processes and machines. The first step is enabling a continuous flow of information upstream and downstream, and that is easily within reach by calling upon the power of Windchill. Once the digital thread is in place, manufacturers can select the high-value opportunities that promise a quick time to value.
For more insight on how to get started, read this white paper on integrating PLM and ERP.
Mark Taber is Vice President of Marketing. In his current role, Mark is focused on helping manufacturers drive digital transformation, with a foundation of PLM and the digital thread, within the enterprise and across enterprises.
Mark has more than 30 years of experience working in the areas of process automation, application integration, cyber security, and development. Prior to PTC, Mark was CEO of Active Endpoints (acquired by Informatica), a process automation firm. A graduate of the Wharton School, Mark currently lives in Raleigh, North Carolina.