that can be manufactured within cost and
schedule targets. It would also be helpful if
they were able to explore different manufacturing options to make appropriate tradeoffs.
At the same time, the tool shop needs to be
aware of how tooling design tradeoffs could
affect design intent. And the manufacturer
needs to be aware of the aesthetic intent behind the finished part so that a manufacturing strategy can be developed that produces a
part with the right look and feel.
Unfortunately, poor data flow isn’t the
only factor that can get in the way of this
kind of cross-functional awareness. Lack
of expertise and experience can also hinder a product development team. Human
psychology can skew the perceptions of individuals, and decisions are often made on
incomplete data, biased perceptions, and
anecdotal knowledge. Experience is also
limited to the domain knowledge of the
individuals involved. They often see the
situation only through the narrow prism of
Because of these limitations and because
the data from design, engineering, manufacturing, and production is generally disconnected, we often learn only from narrow parts of the process and not from an
overall process view.
Creating the Digital Thread and the
One way to solve this disconnect is to have all of the stakeholders in a room reviewing the tradeoffs with
the end customer so that the right decisions
for the overall business are made. In many cases, however, this is not possible. And cultural
and language barriers can easily get in the way
in a distributed manufacturing supply chain.
Connecting all of the data has tremendous
value by eliminating data loss and making
sure all of the relevant data can flow seamlessly down the product development pipeline. In the context of connecting design with
manufacturing data, this is often referred to as
the digital thread. The digital thread proposes
to connect the entire ideation-to-production
data flow together into a single thread of data.
In the end, the digital thread is about automating much of the process and doing so in an
efficient manner without data loss.
Process automation with the digital thread
can be thought of in much the same way as office productivity software applications. Both
provide templates for data flows and processes
that historically had been managed manually.
Spreadsheets, for example, are a form of automation where complicated financial, engineering, and transactional data can be input,
sorted, and processed in an automated manner. Data can even flow between applications
where a word processing document can be updated with a spreadsheet table when entries
in the spreadsheet are updated. These auto-
“Business success is a function of
creating the right balance between
design, manufacturing cost, and
time to market.”