Many manufacturers have continued to invest in technology and systems using a disjointed, piecemeal approach. In this interview, Fred Thomas, DELMIA Global Industry Director for Automotive and Industrial Equipment Industries at Dassault Systèmes tells The Record why the time for real change is now.
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 [Fred Thomas] believe it’s a competitive necessity, as customers are seeking personalized experiences versus commodity transactions, especially when buying a vehicle. I believe we’re moving from the age of mass customization to the age of mass personalization, 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 personalization 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 personalization 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 personalization-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 That means they don’t have the outdated legacy solutions to maintain and can start with model-based, platform-driven manufacturing systems that are infinitely more capable of supporting not only new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 personalization. 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 digitalization across the global manufacturing organization.
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