Over the last decade, technological advances have driven an avalanche of change, both inside original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) and across their target markets, heating the competition to the boiling point. In this environment there is no acceptable margin for error, especially downstream, where budget overruns and downtime can delay product launches and reduce profit margins. With 80 percent of development costs determined in the early phases of the product lifecycle, to achieve dramatic time and cost reductions designs must be conceived with manufacturing in mind and released to production "error free."
Given this hyper-competitive environment, manufacturing planners are continually searching for solutions that will reduce development costs, increase productivity and heighten visibility into product definition early on, thus helping to indicate what resources and relationships will be impacted by changes.
Even after tremendous growth in the past 20-30 years in industries such as automotive, aerospace, industrial equipment and consumer packaged goods, companies are still bringing designs to production the hard way. Before the advent of concurrent engineering, engineers would "throw designs over the wall" to different departments, with a final toss to production planners who often determined the products couldn't be manufactured. The designs were either sent back for rework or the issues reconciled through trial-and-error testing on physical prototypes, wasting time and money. This cycle was repeated endlessly, but most manufacturers shared the problem so the playing field was somewhat level.
There is a more cost- and time-effective way of bringing designs through to production, and it is well within reach of every company in the supply chain. Design and manufacturing engineering have both been digitized for years, but the only thing unifying them is educated guesswork that costs companies time, money and competitive advantage. With design and production data available, there's no reason that companies can't unify the two processes in a digital environment that enables them to prototype their products virtually, saving material, time and introducing an unimaginable degree of agility into the design process.
The Solution: Digital Manufacturing in Product Lifecycle Management
Digital manufacturing is a departure from traditional methods of manufacturing planning, control and implementation. As such, it requires different people skills, different business processes and practices, and the right technology. Both the promise of substantial improvements in cost reduction with ROIs higher than current traditional initiatives and increases in productivity to justify the effort in pursuing digital manufacturing systems are reasons compelling enough for consideration for organizations in competitive industry sectors, executives must embrace digital manufacturing as not just a competitive tactic but something that is needed for survival.
Digital manufacturing solutions work within the enterprise-wide product lifecycle management (PLM) frameworks to further support the development of improved production processes. The use of PLM to support digital manufacturing provides the potential for even more substantial benefits. Until recently, executives were faced with using point solutions directed primarily toward manufacturing engineering organizations and not fully integrated into broader PLM environments. The missing ingredients are common data models that link design activities with production engineering.
Digital manufacturing within PLM can provide executives with a holistic view of product and process design as integral components of the overall product lifecycle and enable product design to be sensitive to process constraints and capabilities. More and more manufacturers are turning to digital manufacturing as a natural extension to computer-aided design (CAD), product data manufacturing (PDM) and other PLM-related applications. Companies like Lockheed Martin and Volkswagen have made well-publicized commitments to PLM and digital manufacturing.