Written by Thomas Spilker

4 Innovations for Digital Product Design

This is part 2 of a 5-part series about digital manufacturing called Embracing the Power of the Next Industrial Revolution. This blog series explores the different challenges throughout the product lifecycle and how to “go digital” in Industry 4.0.

Today’s current product design collaboration process is typically ad hoc, cumbersome, and ineffective. Although companies understand the critical importance of collaboration within their organization and beyond, many struggle with departmental silos between design, manufacturing, procurement, sales, and marketing. 

More effective collaboration between these different groups offers organizations the opportunity to identify product optimizations and understand market fit more easily—and much earlier in the process. Digital manufacturing holds the key to improving visibility and information sharing from ideation to launch. By “going digital” in product design, companies can minimize siloing between different departments which directly impacts product optimizations. 

The Challenges With Product Design

Of the many challenges associated with cross-functional collaboration, the root cause of most is this: product design data is only available to design engineering. Trapped data renders both internal and external collaboration ineffective. This happens because organizations have rigid processes and toolsets that don’t allow for effective communication between different parts of the team, leading to challenges with:

  • Product data access and information exchange between different departments
  • Ideation and development throughout product design
  • Information fidelity, which extends timelines and delays commitments to designs

If an organization can digitalize the product development process, there are more opportunities for complete transparency. Product marketing, procurement, sales, and other teams can leverage product design information for their specific needs without waiting for design engineering to provide the data in a CAD neutral format. Companies stand to benefit from:

  • Increased efficiencies
  • Fewer errors
  • Greater insight
  • Faster innovation
  • Lowered costs

Digital Approaches to Product Design

There are several digital approaches and strategies for product design that ensure product information is accessible throughout the lifecycle.

Digital Twins

One of the most common and thoroughly discussed methods in today’s industry bridges the physical and digital worlds with a digital twin. A digital twin is a fully integrated model of a physical component including all material data, metadata, context, and behavior. It digitally represents the “current state” of a product or system at any given point in time in design, development, manufacturing, and service. In product development, a digital twin allows manufacturers to more easily iterate designs, test feasibility, and share ideas with collaborators.

95 percent of manufacturers are implementing a digital twin in some capacity, with 16 percent achieving full implementation according to a 2018 Capgemini study. And, over half of manufacturers are using their PLM features and tools to engage in collaborative product development. Simplifying collaboration by sharing a digital twin can alleviate many struggles that large-scale manufacturers face today.

Cloud Solutions

Historically, manufacturing organizations harbor a lot of unease for cloud-based solutions. Recent studies, however, are showing that might be changing. A quarter of manufacturers have begun using cloud-based design tools, primarily for:

  • File storage and sharing (74 percent)
  • Design collaboration (56 percent)
  • Design (45 percent)

The common denominator in these use cases boils down to cross-functional and external collaboration. The right cloud-based solutions allow teams to easily collaborate by providing a central place for both internal and external stakeholders to access information. Teams benefit from transparent version control, accountability, and redundancy to communications. When done correctly, cloud-based design tools offer more flexible workflows, greater security, and better cost efficiency than traditional software. 

Interested in learning more about the cloud? Check out our series.

Additive Manufacturing

Often referred to as 3D printing, additive manufacturing has undergone significant development and found multiple applications in various sectors, especially for designing complex parts. Rapidly 3D printing a component or product allows designers and engineers to examine and iterate on physical products in real-time.

Caterpillar has found success with 3D printing in their Additive Manufacturing Factory. Engineers learn how to apply 3D printing to new products, the supply chain, and operations. Stacey DelVecchio, additive manufacturing product manager for Caterpillar, recently said

“Manufacturing companies have spent years training people to design for manufacturability. That means we have parts that are limited by how we traditionally manufacture them. At Caterpillar, we are removing these boundaries from our engineers. Having the capability to design what could never be made before, with features we didn’t think were feasible, is tremendously exciting.”

Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality

Virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) programs are becoming powerful tools for visualization and design. According to 2016 survey data from PwC, more than 1 in 3 manufacturers expected to adopt VR/AR technology by 2018. Today, OEMs such as Ford use AR and VR during product development to collaborate, communicate, ideate, and improve prototypes.

VR allows engineers and designers to see and manipulate their designs in a simulated environment. In a collaborative sense, this allows production and manufacturing to ensure a design will perform optimally in the context of a greater product, such as how a new pump will perform within a tractor. Similarly, AR enables manufacturers to engage a variety of stakeholders with virtual assets, such as overlaying how a new component will fit into a current product, to optimize products while dramatically reducing investment.

Test Before Implementation

A survey from PwC found that 72 percent of manufacturing companies “are dramatically increasing their level of digitization and expect to be able to be ranked as digitally advanced by 2020, compared with just 33 percent today.”  

Although all these digital technologies can help an organization collaborate more easily during product design, it is important to note that not every solution is right for every company. Like any innovation, a very targeted use case exploration, pilot study, and careful implementation should be done to ensure these digital strategies will be successful in your organization.

About Thomas Spilker

Thomas serves as a solution architect, product expert, and voice of the customer for Vertex Software. He has over 30 years of industry experience in 2D/3D visualization and leading teams in developing, deploying, and
training on PLM software solutions. Thomas served as a Siemens PLM Senior Solution Architect and Digital Manufacturing Product Manager for 14 years where he specialized in delivering 3D digital twin, authoring 3D “graphical” manufacturing process plans, and delivering 3D work instructions to the shop floor. His industry expertise includes aerospace and defense, heavy equipment, high-tech electronics, and automotive.