relationships, and configuration management functions. To manage resources for
production, manufacturers use ERP. ERP
architecture is transaction-based and organized around production resources.
While the ERP system utilizes product
data and process plans contained in the
PLM system, the architectures of ERP and
PLM are fundamentally different. PLM
provides “the what”: modeling, BOM
management, process planning, process
simulation, and engineering change management. ERP provides “the when, where,
and how much”: scheduling, financials,
and inventory. But to have a fully functioning digital thread manufacturers also
need “the how”. That’s what PLE provides
through process execution, process control, quality assurance, traceability, and
A Number of
As solution providers improve the integration of these types of en- terprise systems with each other
and with the other enabling technologies
discussed, the seemingly futuristic prospect of the digital thread coalesces into real
digital transformation of the product lifecycle and supply chain. There are equally
real challenges and obstacles to address
along the way, cyber security and other
fundamental technical difficulties chief
among them. Securing sensors, machines,
data, networks, and cyber-physical systems is paramount to the sustainability of
the whole endeavor.
Manufacturers of highly engineered
products in defense, aerospace, medical
devices, and energy are acutely sensitive
to security concerns, for obvious reasons.
Connections between machines (including
legacy equipment), machines and comput-
ing systems, and machines and operators
have to be established, tested, and secured.
Improving interoperability across industries and vendors should be a top priority;
government and industry organizations will
have to step up and lead the way to unified
standards, alliances, and open platforms.
Balancing Risks and Rewards
Forging ahead with the required in- vestments can be a financial and cultural challenge for manufacturers who have spent decades optimizing and
fine-tuning traditional systems. Measuring
ROI in new paradigms is inherently tricky,
but such extensive transformations require
top down buy-in from executives and boards.
Those leading the way will have to prove that
digital integration won’t break the factory or
value chain—or break the bank.
The risk involved in any type of digital
transformation is significant. In complex industries, it can downright painful.
Workforce issues loom large—there aren’t
enough appropriately skilled workers, and
retraining requires time and resources.
The continuous Big Data collection and
analysis that underpins the digital thread
requires data science, cybersecurity, and
IT skills that are in high demand across all
types of businesses and public agencies.
The already beleaguered manufacturing
workforce has been resistant to automation, justifiably fearing job losses. Extending the digital thread into the supply chain
will require overcoming myriad obstacles,
including basic supplier readiness. SMEs,
including smaller manufacturers that deliver components and subassemblies to
larger enterprises, lack the resources to
retrain, retool, and implement advanced
systems. On a grander scale, global crises,
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can be a