Written by Matt Heying

Your First 2 Steps Into the Future of Manufacturing

In the last few months, I’ve had the opportunity to talk to many manufacturers about the changes they’ve experienced in the last six months. I’ve been asked several times, “What trends are you seeing across the industry?” Most of what I see centers around digital transformation initiatives. Some enterprise efforts are being put on pause but the ones that are business-critical are accelerating.

The coronavirus pandemic created a tipping point for our industry in moving towards digital transformation. Historically, any push to move to the next technological paradigm (in today’s case, Industry 4.0) is met with roadblocks. It’s not that the industry fundamentally disagrees about the vision of PLM and manufacturing. In fact, the community has had the vision for decades. The biggest roadblock has simply been this: there hasn’t always been a business driver at the executive level pushing us all there.

Now that there’s a true business driver behind the future of manufacturing, our industry is accelerating its digital transformation efforts. What’s important to remember with digital transformation is that it isn’t an overnight change. Companies don’t have to—and in many ways can’t—conquer transformation right out of the gate. Many have a misconception that digital transformation requires you to throw people and budget to make it work. In fact, I recommend smaller, practical, and data-driven steps that build momentum towards the right direction. It starts with these two steps: embrace the cloud and democratize your data.

First: Embrace The Cloud

The cloud is an enabler, not a threat. In my opinion, the cloud is the missing link to Industry 4.0. For far too long, manufacturers have been skittish when it comes to the cloud. And as a result of that, vendors are behind in bringing those technologies to market, which creates a stalemate in realizing the Industry 4.0 vision. Other segments in manufacturing have fully bought into the cloud, such as sales and finance. Even ERP systems are most likely in the cloud. But product design and development are so reluctant to move to the cloud. When it comes to product data, department teams often have this mindset that the cloud is less secure or it puts their data at risk.

In this time of rapid change, the first step towards digital transformation is to embrace the cloud. The cloud is the vehicle to connect teams and departments, interact with suppliers and customers easier, communicate with your dealers, and every workflow in between. The cloud not only gives manufacturers improved connectivity, it gives best-in-class security, compliance controls, scalability, and visibility into your data.

To answer the challenges of embracing the cloud at a time of physical distancing, Vertex gives manufacturers a cloud-based visualization platform to streamline workflows and connect teams to 3D product data. Collaborators have a dedicated workspace to collaborate in, rather than switching between multiple different methods such as email, PLM, and screencaptures. Because Vertex is cloud-based, users can access their workspace from anywhere without being tethered to software or hardware requirements. Because you aren’t passing files around, you’re always working off the latest design intent and keeping data more secure.

Second: Democratize Your Data

At the end of 2019, Gartner predicted that democratization would be a trend of 2020. The whole point of democratization is that anyone can access the information they need to make decisions. Of course, accessing information in the manufacturing world has never been an easy task. There are three main reasons for this:

  1. The technology infrastructure isn’t available for teams outside of engineering
  2. There are continuing challenges with security when sharing 3D product data
  3. Engineers are hesitant to share data until it’s fully “ready”

There is a cultural anxiety around giving access to designs that aren’t fully approved. Engineers don’t want to share anything out with their colleagues, let alone downstream teams, until they’re confident that they can give you finalized data that won’t change. What engineers don’t realize is the significant opportunity you lose out on by not sharing design data early and often.

While I have a background in mechanical engineering, I have spent most of my career in software. In that world, the industry has converged on the best practice of agile development that encourages collaborative multidisciplinary teamwork, real-time design reviews, small changes released continuously, and iterative improvements based on customer and analytics feedback. Engineers in the manufacturing world would benefit from this style of work. To work this way, you need to quickly collaborate and communicate with all stakeholders. Showing colleagues your design assumptions means you can have meaningful discussions about your designs with people who actually have to build, sell, or service the solution before you “cut iron.”

Vertex makes it easy to democratize data. Remember the three main problems for accessing information I mentioned earlier? With Vertex:

  1. Customers don’t have to worry about technology infrastructure. We enable engineers and their downstream teams to holistically view and interact with rich, real-time, graphics-intensive 3D models, the corresponding metadata, and associated commentary through a web browser.
  2. We keep your most critical business data secure with best-in-class encryption, enterprise-grade compliance, and full transparency of who can access your data.
  3. Through our collaborative features, teams clearly communicate product design intent and solve cross-functional problems more effectively than ever before.

Culture Changes First

In both of these steps, it’s critical to understand that these changes are rooted in a cultural mindset. Using a cloud-based tool like Vertex certainly helps you embrace the cloud and democratize your data, but it has to start with getting people and teams onboard so you can make meaningful change in your organization.

If you’re on the fast-tracked journey towards digital transformation, I encourage you to check out Vertex Software. We are paving the way for 3D collaboration and cloud-based visualization to free product design data to all your teams. Learn more about our solution for design collaboration.

About Matt Heying

Matt has over 15 years of experience in designing and building B2B cloud-based collaborative applications in manufacturing, finance, and defense. In his role at Vertex, Matt oversees the product management and product marketing teams in addition to leading initiatives on new markets and products. This unique position gives him the insight into ensuring new product capabilities match customer expectations and needs.

Matt received his Bachelors and Masters degrees in Mechanical Engineering from Iowa State University. Matt’s graduate work at the Virtual Reality Applications Center (VRAC) focused on 3D visualization and machine learning for mechanical and materials design applications.