Concurrent Manufacturing: Break Down Data Silos to Deliver More Value

Written by: Mark Taber

Read Time: 4 min

Collaboration between engineering and manufacturing teams is essential, especially when the goal is concurrent manufacturing. Designing and manufacturing products in parallel means faster time to market at a lower cost. Achieving that goal requires engineering and manufacturing to be in sync by sharing information earlier in the product development process.

Yet this is incredibly challenging when the two teams rely on siloed systems. Many of today’s manufacturers are designing products that include a combination of mechanical, electronic and software components. To manage all these elements – and the related documentation, bills of materials, supplier certifications and more – product development teams often call upon a Product Lifecycle Management (PLM) system. At the same time, manufacturing teams call upon ERP and MES systems to manage their activities and information. Unfortunately, these distinct systems result in data silos that hamper visibility between product development and manufacturing.

The Negative Impacts of Data Silos

Providing access to accurate, up-to-date data in the manufacturing environment is critical to delivering better products to the field. Field failures and returns are frequently caused by failures in manufacturing processes due to inaccurate data.

Consider the example of a manufacturer delivering all product information and assembly instructions to the manufacturing team via an ERP system. An ERP system is typically used for HR, purchasing, inventory management, order management, and accounting.

Meanwhile, product development manages the product designs in a CAD tool and the related bills of material and other key product information in a PLM system. Mismatches between how data is structured and recorded in these distinct systems can lead to major issues – particularly when manufacturers are using thousands – or even millions – of parts in multiple product lines. Such occurrences can lead to the wrong part being used, leading to a recall. Or it can mean significant delays in manufacturing as the team on the factory floor works to reconcile discrepancies created by these data silos.

Simply put, disjointed systems for product development, manufacturing process planning and production execution impede manufacturers and erode their ability to compete effectively. Specifically, manufacturers hampered by such disconnects and data silos suffer from:

  • Product line failures
  • Scrap and rework
  • Low first pass yields
  • Inability to identify the impact of proposed changes
  • Delays introducing new products

Ultimately, these repercussions add up to higher customer dissatisfaction and lower market share.

Break Down Data Silos By Creating a Digital Thread

The key to breaking down the barriers between engineering and manufacturing teams is to build a complete digital thread from design concept to manufactured items. A digital thread creates universal access to data. When implemented across an enterprise, it can enable consistency and foster collaboration by aligning different functions around a robust set of data. The data set is enabled with real-time synchronization so upstream and downstream information is available to all users simultaneously.

Manufacturers can achieve this end-to-end way of working – from design through planning down to the factory floor – by using PLM as the backbone for all planning activities and to create a seamless flow of information between their essential systems. Adopting this approach, manufacturers can deliver concurrent product and process definitions, and ensure closed-loop changes between engineering and manufacturing, eliminating discrepancies between process definitions and work instructions used on the shop floor.

The consistency between as-designed and as-built plans, along with real-time visibility into the most up-to-date product information, yields many measurable benefits. Common ones include shorter product release cycles, less impactful product recalls, and lower manufacturing costs.

This can all be achieved by harnessing the flexible integration between ERP/MES systems and Windchill, PTC’s award-winning PLM solution. Windchill was designed as the first web-based PLM solution that provides the openness needed for seamless integration with ERP and MES. Windchill PLM perfectly complements existing ERP and MES solutions and helps manufacturers master production ramp-up for a new product or a change. Importantly, it enables manufacturers to create a digital thread from design to the shop floor and vice versa through:

  • Out-of-the-box integration to SAP and Oracle Manufacturing
  • An interface that connects to any type of ERP or MES solution
  • Integration to PTC’s IIOT ThingWorx platform

Concurrent Manufacturing in Action

Don’t take our word for it. Nidec Global Appliance, the largest manufacturer of compressors for refrigeration, significantly reduced duplicate efforts by integrating Windchill with SAP. Here’s how.

Before the integration, Nidec’s developers had to separately enter information into Windchill and SAP, doubling effort and increasing the likelihood of mistakes. Since data in SAP differed from the data in Windchill, the manufacturing team wasn’t sure which was the source of truth.

Though this did not disrupt individual project teams, it did cause failures at the enterprise level due to the lack of process control, supplier control, and inspection/test governance. Problems included the inability to assign a single part to two different assembly steps, or a single assembly step potentially using two different parts. Uncertain about which was the definitive source of truth – PLM or ERP – the manufacturing team struggled to deliver products to market in a timely manner.

Since integrating Windchill and SAP, Nidec can keep the BOM and related work instructions in sync – and now move designs from development into production seamlessly.

The Value of Collaboration Between Engineering and Manufacturing

It’s imperative that manufacturing work concurrently with engineering even as the number of product variants skyrockets. Success hinges on the ability to streamline processes and ensure alignment between product development and the factory floor. This translates to a seamless flow of information from the teams designing and developing products to the teams manufacturing them. By enabling manufacturing to easily access the most up-to-date product information in a timely fashion – even as it changes – the company will see less rework and duplicate effort, with fewer materials being expedited and less time-to-market delays. Simply put, a seamless flow of quality product information upstream and downstream, enabled by an integration between PLM and ERP, is key to a competitive edge. 

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Tags: Product Lifecycle Management (PLM) Windchill Aerospace and Defense Automotive Electronics and High Tech Industrial Equipment Life Sciences Digital Thread

About the Author

Mark Taber

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.