A unified approach to data infrastructure

Disparate systems and silos of data can affect a manufacturer’s ability to meet expectations. PTC and Microsoft are working together to address this

Elly Yates-Roberts
By Elly Yates-Roberts on 19 October 2021
A unified approach to data infrastructure

Manufacturing businesses must successfully manage many flows of information to design, deliver and support a product that ensures customer satisfaction.

Such information includes data that encompasses a product’s design and specifications, the processes and execution details from manufacturing to servicing, along with real-time data from that product’s performance in the field, throughout the product life cycle. It is generated in the value chain, often in data siloes, and comes from different tools that were designed to meet the specific needs of just one specific team. The result can be a disconnected work environment.

“By definition, this makes hand-offs between teams difficult, particularly when they become physically separated from each other, such as we have all seen in the recent past,” says Iain Michel, divisional vice president and general manager of connected products solutions at PTC. “And if data on product performance in the field isn’t part of the product information, suppliers have to wait for something bad to happen, such as an end user complaining.”

Another example is rejection of raw materials by any member of the value chain. This could be because of an out-of-date specification in the hands of a supply chain partner, an improper incoming inspection procedure, or the wrong inventory item being released to the shop floor. And Michel says that the economic impact grows at each value-added stage where the mistake isn’t caught.

“The same can be said of servicing equipment in the field,” he explains. “Without a unified data set and system in place, a technician may not have the most current information on the equipment condition or performance. Coupled with the fact that, in many cases, the mistake has only been found by a customer, this can result in uncompetitive customer satisfaction scores and costly unplanned downtime for the end user’s equipment.

“These are all issues that come from a poor flow of product information, which should be considered as an enterprise-level issue.”

But there is a light at the end of the tunnel.

“Historically, because of how and where this data is generated, it has not been given the same priority as customer relationship management or enterprise resource planning, but it should be,” says Michel. “We encourage companies to consider the idea of an extended digital thread, where the supply chain, channel partners and end users should be taken into account. They all generate and need the most current product information that is critical to a successful end-user experience, whether in supporting continuous improvement of product design, production, field service, or supply of spare parts and consumables.”

Michel believes that creating that extended digital thread comes from three related activities: instituting modern end-to-end design processes; getting connected to equipment in the factory and the field; and establishing data governance and traceability.

“Another area is data orchestration and collaboration, where the structures for providing both the data and the appropriate context for shared information are put in place,” he says. “This often requires sourcing data across systems, so that different functions, organisational elements and even external partners can participate, with the aspiration to boost the corporate top and bottom line and find opportunities for sharing value among value chain partners.”

There are more extensive digital transformation opportunities available, as well. “With this data sharing in place, manufacturing companies can now understand how the end customer is using their equipment. That understanding can inform data-driven design, assuring that new product concepts meet user needs and tell engineering teams where they should focus their continuous improvement efforts for the greatest benefit.

“Digital twins that enable simulation can be better informed by real-time data, and if a company is considering innovative ways of doing business, building this extended digital thread is a critical success factor.”

The benefits are profound, from improving service costs, reducing new product introduction time and the costs of poor quality, and even helping traditional capital goods suppliers to put recurring, predictable revenue models in place, with connected, outcomes-based transactions.

“PTC, in partnership with Microsoft, is uniquely positioned to enable the extended digital thread,” says Michel. “From design, through managing and governing the entire product life cycle, to connecting disparate products and systems and delivering that information, PTC can help manufacturers unify this product information flow. This ensures that the right information gets to the right person, at the right time, in a form that’s easy to understand, regardless of where in the world they are.”

PTC has integrated with Microsoft technology at the edge and in the cloud in multiple offerings, bringing together best-in-class solutions for engineering excellence, manufacturing efficiency and service optimisation with the benefits of Microsoft’s global reach, scale and security.

“As companies plan their goals, they should consider how PTC with Microsoft’s Azure technology can help to realise that goal,” says Michel.  

This article was originally published in the Autumn 2021 issue of Technology Record. To get future issues delivered directly to your inbox, sign up for a free subscription.

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