Digital Manufacturing: This technology really can transform your business

Digital Manufacturing is a key point of integration between product life-cycle management (PLM) software and factory automation equipment such as PLCs and transfer lines, and many of the long-term benefits from PLM are simply not achievable without incorporating a comprehensive Digital Manufacturing strategy.
By Ed Miller, CIMdata, Inc. April 23, 2008

In today’s turbulent economy, Digital Manufacturing has the potential to transform businesses and significantly improve their competitiveness. The concepts that have driven development of Digital Manufacturing solutions have evolved over the years, and have included initiatives such as design-for-assembly, design-for-manufacturability, concurrent engineering, and others that promoted more collaborative product and process design. From these initiatives, the breadth and depth of Digital Manufacturing has continued to evolve. Today, full manufacturing facility definition (including tooling, assembly lines, workcenters, ergonomics, and resources) is an integral part of manufacturing process planning, simulation is used to efficiently optimize production processes, and real-world information from actual production operations can be shared electronically and leveraged for better utilization of capabilities and resources.

Because the definition of production processes is a critical part of the product life cycle and is directly impacted by product designs, Digital Manufacturing is becoming an important element of Product Life-cycle Management (PLM) strategies. Indeed, Digital Manufacturing is a key point of integration between PLM and factory automation equipment such as PLCs and transfer lines, and many of the long-term benefits from PLM are simply not achievable without incorporating a comprehensive Digital Manufacturing strategy. This migration of PLM onto the shop floor provides an opportunity to better exchange product-related information between the design and manufacturing groups so that processes in both areas can be developed collaboratively instead of in isolation.

A full Digital Manufacturing program implemented as part of corporate-wide PLM strategy holds tremendous potential in achieving major benefits including: shortened product development cycles and earlier visibility of manufacturing issues, faster time to volume production and subsequently shorter time-to-market, reduced manufacturing costs and fewer production ramp-up problems, and improved product quality.

Digital Manufacturing has demonstrated its value at many companies and provided significant payback. One large aerospace firm employs Digital Manufacturing as part of a broad PLM environment within their aircraft engine operations to manage approval, notification, and tracking of documents, establish routings and work instructions, and manage process templates. A head of manufacturing engineering noted that through commonization, reduction in design changes, quality improvements, and productivity gains, the company obtained payback on its investment in less than one year.

This example is not unusual. Research conducted by CIMdata on Digital Manufacturing implementations indicates that companies around the world have achieved very positive results and have validated the potential value for organizations to make Digital Manufacturing a fundamental part of their overall product program. A survey of companies with Digital Manufacturing implementations of various sizes indicates exceptionally impressive return on investments (ROIs). Relatively small $200 investments yielded annual savings of $1 million for a 5:1 ROI, for example, while larger investments in the rang of $5 million to $10 million lead to annual savings of $50 million to $100 million for a 10:1 ROI.From these figures, it is clear that substantial benefits are available for companies making the investment in Digital Manufacturing and having an understanding of the changes that must be made in business operations to best leverage these technology-based solutions.

Organizations taking the initiative to implement Digital Manufacturing as a component of PLM broadly across the enterprise are better able to successfully compete in the global market and will undoubtedly be among their industry’s winners in the coming decades.

Ed Miller is president of CIMdata Inc., an independent worldwide firm providing strategic consulting to maximize an enterprise’s ability to design and deliver innovative products and services through the application of PLM strategies..