Using incorrect information is very costly for a company. This also applies to the manufacturing industry, in which data runs like a continuous thread through all departments and processes. Digital continuity is in this case crucial. But what exactly is digital continuity? And what does this require?
The lifecycle of a product consists of roughly three phases during which different departments work on the product. First of all, the product must be concocted, designed, and developed, after which it is actually produced. After delivery, the manufacturer (or another party) will provide technical support and maintenance.
In many companies, information primarily flows in one direction. Engineering transfers designs, models, and blueprints to the manufacturing department, which in its turn strives to optimally convert the design into a product. A quality control will take place before selling, which basically entails comparing the specifications with the design. Support is merely focused on keeping delivered products operational.
This situation quickly leads to information silos. Each link in the chain generates its own files, creating its own version of the truth. Even if information is exchanged, nobody knows which data is actual and reliable. This is an ideal feeding ground for errors, delays, and miscommunication, which will result in a non-optimal end product.
What is digital continuity? With digital continuity, companies take the overall quality of products to the next level. Digital continuity means that everyone working on a certain product or design is at all times working with the exact same version of data and models. All of the departments in your company – as well as external parties such as suppliers and (future) purchasers – therefore always simultaneously have at their disposal the exact same reliable information.
This improves mutual collaboration, increases efficiency, and limits the number of errors. Information on each phase of the lifecycle is consistent in all departments in real-time. This prevents the formation of information silos and helps departments to better align their activities. They have direct access to information when it becomes available, and are more productive.
This real-time access to correct information leads to improved end products. Aspects such as technical support and ease of maintenance are from the very beginning included in the product development. Support in return gives feedback on the operational product performances to manufacturing and engineering, which also provide each other with input for a smarter development and production.
Digital continuity is also essential for the collaboration with external parties. Customers always know the actual status of an order or project, and can provide direct feedback. This results in the end product meeting the customer’s wishes even better, and suppliers can respond to production changes faster.
IIoT makes digital continuity even more important Until now, it has been mostly about ‘human’ actions. But digital continuity will become even more significant due to the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), where machines and computer systems will increasingly communicate with each other (M2M communication) and make decisions. A collision between two robots caused by incorrect digital information can not only result in great financial damage, it can also cause accidents risking fatal injuries.
How do you realise digital continuity? One decade ago, companies tried to realise digital continuity by linking all kinds of systems. But genuine digital continuity throughout the entire chain requires one single platform on which all stakeholders can make changes at the same time. This platform also keeps track of what should be done, by whom and when, so there is always a complete audit trail.
This platform should meet the following requirements:
- Model-based The platform should not only be based on documents and ‘flat’ 2D information, but also on 3D designs. Besides the fact that everyone will see the same information at the same time, everybody works in the same 3D model. Dassault Systèmes calls this representation of the product in the digital world a 3DEXPERIENCE Twin.
- Data-driven The platform should be data-driven, rather than file-driven. Simply put, you will no longer work with files that move from A to B, but instead in a kind of Google Doc in which all data merges and that all users can simultaneously work on.
These two pillars are the foundation of the 3DEXPERIENCE platform of Dassault Systèmes.
Realising digital continuity entails more than selecting the right IT solution. Organizations should also transform into a new way of working. Technology is an instrument for innovation, not an aim in itself.