By Karsten Theis
New use cases and business models require new integration concepts. Conventional data integration and synchronization, with which we here at PROSTEP have decades of experience and can do blindfolded, need to be supplemented with innovative new integration concepts if the flow of information in companies and their supply chains is to be managed as best possible. These new integration concepts have to meet three key requirements: they must be able to link data across domains, support traceability in both directions (forward and backward), and integrate suppliers in the digital thread.
Value creation is increasingly shifting from hardware to software-driven products and systems that are interconnected and can communicate data about their status. Digital twins of these smart products make a multitude of new use cases possible: virtual start of production, which delivers considerable time and cost savings, especially in the field of mechanical and plant engineering, predictive maintenance for products of any kind or their conversion into services. Instead of selling aircraft engines or air conditioners, manufacturers sell and guarantee their customers a certain number of flight hours or the air conditioning of a certain volume of space.
These new business models are turning the business case on its head. Whereas manufacturers used to be interested in selling their customers as many spare parts and services as possible, they now have to make sure that their products are as service friendly and low maintenance as possible. This is because the customer pays only for the agreed service, regardless of how much time and effort the manufacturer puts into providing it. As a result, traceability and backward traceability from the product in the field to manufacturing and development and back through to requirements is becoming hugely important.
Ensuring this backward traceability poses a major challenge in a world in which the digital thread must be woven across company boundaries. It also requires new approaches to supplier integration. Simply tossing CAD files over the fence, so to speak, and entering some master data in a portal is no longer enough. OEMs and suppliers have to synchronize software architectures and develop system behavior together. But to do this, they need to have structured their own data better and linked it at a more granular level. This is especially true when linking PLM and ALM data, which still often exists in parallel worlds.
If a product is to be offered as a service and be maintained in a sustainable manner, the operational data also has to be linked to the development data. This is a whole new world and the increasing complexity of products is not making things any easier. Nowadays if a vehicle responds incorrectly when braking, umpteen systems and control units are involved, some of which were without doubt developed by suppliers. If the cause of the error is to be identified and its source determined correctly, the operational data needs be fed back into the vehicle’s digital twin or an appropriate behavioral model and simulated. Only then can the cause of the error in (software) development be eliminated.
The increasing complexity of products means that the number of IT tools in companies and supply chains has also increased. Their level of integration however has not kept pace. There is currently no concept for linking digital twins in a meaningful way. The biggest problem is that the digital Thread, if it exists at all, exists in only one direction, namely from product planning to development and manufacturing through to testing and operation. There is no path leading in the other direction.
A sustainable integration concept needs to support traceability across systems, domains and company boundaries and in both directions. Neutralizing and copying the data or dumping it in a data lake and trawling murky waters with the help of artificial intelligence is not a solution. Which is why synchronization is being joined by state-of-the-art approaches for linking semantic data using ontologies and uniform standards.
What is needed is a comprehensive integration concept that supports data linking and synchronization and also integrates suppliers. Our integration solutions already provide this support. We have built our PLM integration solution OpenPDM, our traceability solution OpenCLM and our data exchange solution OpenDXM GlobalX on a uniform, cloud-enabled software architecture. This makes it possible for us to realize new integration concepts for end-to-end digitalization.
You can find out more in this newsletter, in our report on the PROSTEP INSIGHT DAYS.