Manufacturing transformation – it’s now or never!

Manufacturing transformation – it’s now or never!

Dassault Systèmes' Fred Thomas explains why manufacturers should rethink tech investment 

Caspar Herzberg |

This article first appeared in the Spring 2018 issue of The Record.

How would you define the concept of digital transformation within the manufacturing space?

Digital transformation is enabling a reinvention of manufacturing. It’s a core component of a new ‘industry renaissance’ – the merger of automation, the internet of things (IoT), the industrial internet of things (IIoT), artificial intelligence, business processes, big data and cloud computing. Digital transformation enhances agility and flexibility across the enterprise by enabling digital continuity, from ideation to production through post-sales service.

What is the urgency regarding manufacturing transformation?

I believe it’s a competitive necessity, as customers are seeking personalised experiences versus commodity transactions, especially when buying a vehicle. I believe we’re moving from the age of mass customisation to the age of mass personalisation, where customers expect both the process and the product to be unique.

From a process point of view, look at how Tesla has changed the car-buying process. From a product standpoint, I would point you to Ford’s ‘Personalize Your Pony’ program, where fans and customers can go online and design their own Mustang logo which can then be duplicated across any number of personal items, including clothes, coffee mugs and even ordered on your new Ford Mustang vehicle. This level of personalisation is going to rapidly expand across the industry and it is my belief that a lot of manufacturers are unprepared to support this kind of mass personalisation with their current manufacturing systems.

What specifically have you seen that causes you the most concern?

I have three primary areas of concern in terms of traditional automotive original equipment manufacturers (OEM) being competitive in a mass personalisation-driven world.

The first is that they are not responding to the competitive threat presented by automotive OEM startups that don’t have a 100-year legacy to deal with. That means they don’t have the outdated legacy solutions to maintain and can start with model-­based, platform-driven manufacturing systems that are infinitely more capable of supporting not only new vehicle technologies, such as electrification and autonomous vehicles, but also the processes associated with vehicle personalisation.

My second concern is that there has been a lack of progress in digital or virtual manufacturing systems adoption, and my third concern is the ongoing tactical response of solving manufacturing execution problems on the shop floor with more homegrown and point solution purchases. This only extends the disparate, silo-based manufacturing environment to the detriment of building a future on a strategic model-based foundation that can drive uniform digitalisation across the global manufacturing organisation.

Which technologies have the potential to change the status quo and reinvent how manufacturers operate and progress?

Additive manufacturing is a truly transformative technology that will fundamentally change manufacturing processes. But in order to effectively integrate additive manufacturing into your manufacturing operations, a process-driven, model-based platform that is fully supportive of visualising 3D product models on the line, and ensures that additive manufacturing processes fit within both the production and quality plan for the operations, is required. Trying to piecemeal additive manufacturing technologies into a disparate, disconnected manufacturing environment will limit if not erase the potential benefits that could be achieved.

IIoT will have both a positive and negative impact on manufacturers. Again, this is a situation where the lack of a fundamental process-driven platform strategy for manufacturing will sub-optimise the technologies that are capable of significant gains. If manufacturers have employed a cohesive, process-driven, platform-based systems strategy for manufacturing, the availability of new data provided by IIoT-enabled communications can offer new insight into operations. When combined with the right analytical tools, this can provide predictive capabilities in a more precise and responsive manner. But if IIoT-enabled data acquisition is dropped into an existing disparate legacy manufacturing systems environment, you ultimately end up with just another under-performing technological implementation.

What kind of negative habits limit some manufacturers when it comes to adopting new technologies?

Companies become buried in the minutiae of the technology or the company purchasing process and lose all urgency to achieve the original goal of selecting and implementing a technology to impact the performance of manufacturing. Technology advancements can only improve manufacturing performance and make the company more competitive or optimise an opportunity if they are implemented. The longer this takes, the less chance these technologies have of meeting their original goals.

How vital is it to select a technology partner that can deliver a spectrum of benefits and help manufacturers realise their full potential?

It is absolutely crucial to evaluate technology providers to understand their vision, capabilities and track record in delivering innovative technologies and capabilities in support of manufacturing transformation. Look for partners who offer the full breadth of capabilities across both the digital manufacturing and manufacturing execution domains. And pay particular attention to whether their tools and solutions were acquired and stitched together or were developed under a single unified vision. This will prevent you selecting a partner who has the same issues that you are trying to solve in your own company.

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