• June 7, 2018

Product development: The digital thread in Industry 4.0

Ulf Koester
Solution Director Oracle Digital Transformation Solutions

The rules of product development have changed. Smart, connected products are providing a wealth of opportunities for those prepared to innovate. By utilising IoT and data-centric methodologies, businesses can drive efficiency and continued refinement across their whole product lifecycle.

We’re living in the era of Industry 4.0, otherwise known as the fourth industrial revolution, which is characterised by the digitisation of manufacturing. The endless amount of connections available between devices in the modern age is empowering companies, enabling them to link up traditionally separate elements to become more efficient and customer-centric. Product Development teams increasingly need to support the development of connected products and systems.


Connecting siloed business elements

Chief among the technologies driving change is the industrial internet of things (IIoT)—a subset of IoT which has enormous potential to enable companies to innovate and adapt new business models such as “Product As A Service”. Although cost cutting is certainly a big draw, IIoT’s ability to connect operations is the real gamechanger. For example, data can be used to improve operational equipment’s uptime and availability. But to achieve this, siloed teams need work more effectively together.

The phenomenon of being able to link up various operations in this way is known as the “digital thread”—an advanced communication network which allows for a much more integrated approach to manufacturing. To make the thread work, various processes throughout product development connect information “silos”. This creates a complete, data-rich network that weaves together elements throughout the development cycle, all the way through the lifecycle of products from idea inception through release, in-field use and service.

With product demand being higher than it’s ever been, the reduced cycle time and smart insights the digital thread provides is quickly becoming essential to manufacturers.


Virtual Worlds

A central benefit of the digital thread is being able to predict problems before they occur, which can be done by creating a “digital twin”.

A digital twin is a virtual model of a process, product, physical asset, or service. This effectively allows manufacturers to run simulations in a virtual environment, which in turn can assist in predicting problems further down the line.

In terms of operational assets, digital twins enable manufacturers to build and test equipment and processes before investing in real world infrastructure. Asset Performance Management (APM) has grown in importance as a consequence, with digital twin insights allowing for proactive and predictive maintenance before costly mistakes happen. Digital twins are also vital for product development, as they can give insights into how the products are actually used, so that product design can be adapted accordingly.


Management through the entire product lifecycle

The digital thread doesn’t just benefit the manufacturing process. Enabling the digital thread across the full product lifecycle from Innovation through Development to Commercialization has substantial benefits, which is where Product Lifecycle Management (PLM) software comes in.

Data, processes, decisions, and results from all stages of the product lifecycle can be fed into PLM software, providing a single source of information that can drive considerable operational performance. This can be invaluable to things like compliance, as data is fully traceable and easily accessible. PLM software is also useful for tracking product definition through its lifecycle, recording changes and maintaining the relationship between various bills of material (for example, between engineering and manufacturing bill).

Of course, none of these tools or platforms would mean anything if businesses don’t adapt their working methods to accommodate them. Today’s most innovative companies have started using Agile—a working methodology based on the principles of adaptive planning, early delivery, continuous improvement, and the ability to respond quickly.

Agile methodology emphasises collaboration between separate teams and iterative design, making it an ideal methodology for the fourth industrial revolution.        


A new age of product development

Businesses are quickly discovering the opportunities that Industry 4.0 brings. loT is ushering in a new era where data is used to predict errors, streamline process, and aid collaboration across the supply chain. By embracing Industry 4.0, forward thinking businesses are enabling themselves to innovate, evolve, and ultimately become more profitable.

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