Understanding Product and Process Data: iRobot's Transformational Digital Engineering Journey




If you attended our recent webcast, “iRobot’s Journey to Product Nirvana”, then you know that iRobot recently made the move from a drawing-centric product development process (where all of their product information was noted on CAD drawings) to a part-centric one where all product data is maintained in a Bill of Materials (BOM).  To ensure that all organizational stakeholders were receiving maximum value from this new approach to product development, iRobot adopted a “Quick Win” approach. With this approach, projects were deployed in 3-6 month increments rather than completed over a longer period of time that zapped the energy of the team members. The results were startling.

This new process gave stakeholders universal access to product data to complete projects more rapidly. This is not something that many organizations currently have -- as exhibited in a poll during our webcast with iRobot where 71% of our audience revealed that their product data is moderately, slightly, or not accessible at all. Not only that, this new approach gave engineers a significant amount of their time back to focus on more than one task or project. You can learn more about Universal Data Access in this blog post.

Making this transformation in the product development process has become a necessity in the Internet of Things (IoT) era where increased product complexity makes product development exponentially more complicated. 

In its Digital Engineering Journey playbook, PTC recommends that organizations begin transforming their engineering process by understanding their products, processes, and systems with the data that is already stored in their enterprise systems. This can easily be done by adopting some form of a Digital Product Definition. A Digital Product Definition ensures all stakeholders across the product development process are accessing the most current product information by capturing and coordinating all of the various types of data and processes on an integrated platform.

Another webcast poll revealed that 88% of the participants felt that their organization utilized a Digital Product Definition throughout the enterprise moderately, slightly, or not at all. However, maintaining a consistent and accurate Digital Product Definition (such as a BOM) is one of the most important things that your organization can do. Have you ever spent time working on a task, only to discover that you were using out-of-date information and need to redo the task – or worse, the entire project now needs to be redone? By accessing all information via one platform, stakeholders can feel confident that they are using the most up-to-date information. By consolidating all product information into a single source, organizations can also identify where designs can be reused – reducing the wasted time and money of duplicating work. Finally, having a complete and total picture of product data and information allows stakeholders to easily find and eliminate problems early in the product development process – lowering product and development costs for your organization. 

Deploying a Digital Product Definition – or more specifically, a BOM – does not need to be a tedious task that takes forever to realize ROI. In fact, when iRobot first invested in a PLM platform, they used it as a vault for their CAD drawings. It wasn’t until the dust had settled on this first step that they looked to move to a part-centric product development approach. And even that move was broken down to give the team five quick wins that would encourage them to continue on the path of evolving their engineering practice. These wins include:

  • BOM Structure and Reporting – Enter all parts and product information into an easy-to-read, easy-to-understand format
  • Parts Classification and Reuse – Classify parts into related categories (i.e. function, physical characteristics) to reduce the occurrence of part duplication 
  • Change Management – Make dynamic, fast-paced, coordinated changes to the BOM throughout the product lifecycle to ensure all stakeholders are accessing the most up-to-date product information 
  • Component and Supplier Management – Reduce product and supply chain complexity by managing and aligning parts, material, and supplier information into a strategic supply chain process 
  • Value Chain Data Sharing and Collaboration – Need to share product information with stakeholders (such as your supply chain)? No problem! Quickly consolidate a secure package of the most up-to-date relevant product data to allow easy collaboration 

Check out the replay of the webcast, “iRobot’s Journey to Product Nirvana”, to learn how these five quick wins were achieved by iRobot and learn more about them here